Academy Awards lack of diversity a reminder

Kelly Minica and Mark Luetkehoelter, Librarians

The big criticism leveled at this year’s Academy Awards is the lack of diversity among the nominees. Almost immediately after the nominees were announced, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending and AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) was blasted both in social and traditional media.
Notably absent from nominations were Idris Elba, whose performance in “Beasts of No Nation” received every other film award nomination available and won the Screen Actors Guild Award, and the film “Straight Outta Compton,” which received nominations in most other film awards.

A big part of the problem, according to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report prepared by UCLA’s Ralph J Bunche’s Center for African American Studies, is that of the roughly 6,000 voting members of AMPAS, 90 percent are white and 70 percent are male.

Another issue is the overall role of women in the nominated films. It likely doesn’t help representation of women in film when in greenlighting a film, the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report points out that film studio heads are 100 percent male and management positions in the film industry in general are overwhelmingly held by males.

The Bechdel Test, named for graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, is based upon the criteria that to get a passing score the movie must feature two named women who have a conversation about something other than a man. Only three of the eight films nominated this year pass the test (“Brooklyn,” “Mad Max Fury Road,” and “Room”), which is at least better than last year when none of the nominated films passed the test.

It’s not to say that the films nominated aren’t good. The two frontrunners for best film this year, “Spotlight” and “The Revenant,” are films that have been lauded by critics of all types. It also might not be fair to say that the members of AMPAS are overtly racist or sexist. The problem may simply be that members vote for what movies they see and those movies might only reflect interests or values they personally have. AMPAS is taking steps to diversify its membership, but things could be helped in the meantime if current members tried diversifying their viewing habits.

The issue of selecting things that reinforce one’s own values is broader than just the movies and members of AMPAS. In this era of heavy polarization, we probably all have to ask ourselves how willing we are to see things from a perspective that’s not our own.

One of the things the Madison College Libraries takes pride in is offering a selection of books and videos from a wide diversity of viewpoints and values. The next time you’re browsing our collection for a book or video, consider checking out an item outside of your comfort zone.