The announcement of 2016 Academy Awards nominees today came with no surprises—a white-out in actor nominations with no people of color in the top 20 acting nominees for the second year in a row. The last time that the acting nominees list was all white before 2014 was 1997. In addition, not one Best Director nominee is a woman. One of the very few black people up front for the Oscar presentations on February 7 will be host, Chris Rock.
One slight hope for diversity last year came from the four awards for Birdman, a film about a washed-up white actor. All four—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography–came from Mexican talent. This link to Mexican culture, however, started with Sean Penn’s “joke”: “Who gave this son of a bitch a green card?” Despite Penn’s friendship with director Alejandro González Iñárritu, hashtag #PennDejo opened up a viral dialog on racial coding. After being designated as an “other” in the elitist Academy community, Iñárritu used his short time to dedicate his Oscar to Mexicans living on both sides of the U.S. border.
“I pray that we can find and build a government that we deserve, and the ones that live in this country, who are a part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”
For the second year in a row, a Mexican director was nominated last year for Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón was awarded Best Director for Gravity in 2014. Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who won his second Academy Award, had been nominated for his seventh Oscar. In 2007, three Mexican-born directors were nominated for Academy Awards: Iñárritu for Babel, Cuarón for Children of Men, and Guillermo del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth. Last year, nominations for the front of the camera were white, but less visible people were more people of color.
Racial injustice may have been ignored over last year when Selma received only two nominations, but Common and John Legend, winners of the Best Original Song trophy, used their time to point out the film’s relevance. Legend said:
“Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”
Three times last year, speakers talked about suicide prevention. Graham Moore, winning screenwriter for The Imitation Game about closeted gay codebreaker Alan Turing during World War II, spoke about trying to kill himself as a teen because he felt different.
“Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do. And that’s the most unfair thing I think I’ve ever heard. So in this brief time here what I would want to use it to do is to say this: when I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself. Because I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do – you do. Stay weird, stay different. And then, when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass this message to the next person who comes along.”
In the categories for film shorts, “The Phone Call” (fiction) and “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” (nonfiction) gave representations of suicide call centers and the importance of having these resources for people in need. Julianne Moore devoted part of her speech to discuss Alzheimer’s research, asking people to be more inclusive of people with the disorder and increase medical research to end the disease.
The crew of Citizenfour talked about Edward Snowden and his whistleblowing advocacy. Director Laura Poitras said:
“The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made affecting all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage and for the many other whistleblowers.”
Regarding issues of sexism, Best Actress nominee Reese Witherspoon championed a social media campaign (#AskHerMore) encouraging the media to ask women about more than their outfits. Another issue during last year Oscars was wage equality after the Sony Pictures email hack revealed that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams earned significantly less than their male co-stars. Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette said:
“To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!”
Her statement brought ire from Stacey Dash on the Fox network, who thinks that John F. Kennedy’s equal pay law has been successful. Dash went on to agree with “Mr. Trump,” who also wants a time when no one cares about racial and gender equality at the Oscars, and claimed, “I miss the glamour. The elegance. The class. The majesty of the Oscars.” She added that American Sniper” was “the most beautiful film [she’d] seen in a long time.” Dash is also known for starring in Clueless.
Charlize Theron negotiated a $10 million dollar raise after the Sony hack of The Interview revealed her male co-star was being paid millions more than she was.
Before last year, political comments in the Oscar speeches were fewer than once a year and connected with a documentary in a political issue. Last year, the many references to social issues were largely cheered by the audience unlike ones in the 20th century such as Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins’ addressing the federal detention at Guantanamo Bay of HIV-positive Haitians fleeing a a coup d’état and Vanessa Redgrave’s speech accusing “Zionist hoodlums” of campaigning against her. Michael Moore was booed in 2003 for his Bowling for Columbine acceptance speech.
Last year, Chris Rock wrote a blistering op-ed piece about the whiteness of the film industry. As host this year, he may be able to deliver it in person. Any socially aware comments will be sure to bring down the fury of white conservatives. This year’s Oscar nominations depict the world as they see it, a world that is long gone.