It’s no wonder Oscar is a little golden man; 77 percent of this year’s Academy is male, 94 percent of the voting pool is white and the median age is 62. Of the 20 acting nominations, not a single person of color was recognized.
On Feb. 28 the results of the 88th Academy Awards will be met with boycotts, protests and demand for change.
With the nomination results announced in January, just like the year before, there were no actors or actresses of color in the four main Academy categories: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
Many public figures and national organizations such as President Barack Obama and the NAACP have spoken out about the issue. Since the Academy Awards’ establishment in 1926 there has been a lack of representation of not only people of color but of women as well. Last year there was a push for the movement “Oscars So White” but it lacked a strong following.
According to Jorge Marí, associate professor of the Department of Foreign Language and Literatures and a researcher who has published articles and books about contemporary Spanish culture, prose fiction and film, the current “Oscars So White” movement may be gaining traction due to the growing awareness for racial justice.
“It is hard to say, but perhaps the rise of racism and the wave of violence against minorities in the United States and in the world have influenced it,” Marí said. “For example, the political violence against unarmed black people — and children — crimes of hate against Muslims, the Syrian refugee crisis, etc., and also maybe Donald Trump’s really brutal statements. I believe all this has contributed to wake the consciousness for ethnic justices and matters of diversity in this country.”
Shelley Garrigan, an associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Language and Literatures who is currently researching Jewish-Mexican identities in the documentary films genre, said this Oscars’ controversy is sparking more conversations and awareness about the bigger questions that need to be asked.
“I find it to be a very interesting controversy because I think it’s awakening conversations that are bigger than the Oscars that resonate with larger community and societal issues such as: what are the points of access; what are the entryways; who’s in charge of those gates and what sort of process is in place to make sure everyone gets a fair shot?” Garrigan said. “I appreciate that there are these conversations going on about the Oscars. I think they’re good conversations to have. We need to talk about things that are uncomfortable and why things are the way they are.
The Academy’s exclusivity
Gaining access into the academy is a complex and exclusive process. In order to be qualified to vote an individual must have worked in the last 10 years, been nominated for an Oscar or have been working in three 10-year periods.
The Academy Awards’ website explains that “the public recognizes the Oscar as an award based solely on artistic and technical achievement and because care has been taken to preserve the integrity of the Oscar symbol.”
Marsha Gordon, an associate film professor in the Department of English, explained that the Oscars base its awards on a commercial industry.
“I’m a little cynical about awards in general,” Gordon said. “Of course, it’s nice for any field to recognize the best work that is done. But this is one of the most commercial industries in the world using a very commercial award at a big commercial ceremony to recognize the biggest commercial products of the year.”
However, Gordon said that she doesn’t think the Oscars being more commercial is a bad thing.
“... It’s just that the awards are focused on big commercial films, stars and filmmakers, so they are necessarily exclusive of many talented people and excellent films that might be every bit as worthy of the ‘best’ label,” Gordon said.
Film director, Alejandro González Iñárritu
Mexican film director and composer Alejandro González Iñárritu was nominated for directing for his film “The Revenant,” and is the only Latino nominee this year.
“González Iñárritu is an extraordinary director, without a doubt one of the best filmmakers of Latin America, and in the world,” Marí said. “I admire his movies, especially ‘Birdman’ and ‘Babel,’ and also ‘Amores Perros’ and ‘Biutiful.’ I’ve used some of his films in my cinema classes because I believe he is a very complete, complex filmmaker with a very personal, artistic vision of Mexican roots — but also on a global dimension.”
Iñárritu’s has worked as a screenwriter, director and producer. His ability to fill different roles in filmmaking is what Garrigan said is so interesting about him.
“He has a multi-tiered experience both in travel abroad and his background as a musician, which he says has impacted his filmography much more than film itself,” Garrigan said. “The fact that he is ‘captain of the ship’ in terms of internationally acclaimed films, and they span multiple countries, and he’s got his Mexican films, and his U.S. films and his films that cross those borders.”
However, Garrigan explained that she has read criticisms from Mexican scholars about Iñárritu portraying his films too aesthetically appealing, rather than realistic.
“He’s been criticized by some Mexican scholars as sort of feeding into a ‘neoliberal aesthetic’ that takes over Mexican film, rather than allowing them to be less influenced by economic factors by what’ll sell, and what’ll be popular and what the images are the global culture can relate to,” Garrigan said. “I, personally, have always loved his films, despite the fact that I understand those criticisms; I find his films ask several questions, and that’s the experience I want to have when I see drama.”
Appearance of Latinos in the film industry
The depiction of Latinos in film, Marí explained, is a situation that requires a great bit of time and detail to explain. Roles riddled with historical, cultural, social, economic and ideological factors are typically those that grace the silver screen.
“There is indeed a long history of typecasting of Latinos in certain roles, just like there is a long history of biased, distorted representations of the U.S. Latino communities and indeed of the Hispanic world in Hollywood cinema,” Marí said.
One issue Marí finds interesting is how a majority of Latino actors, whether “U.S.-born or cross-overs from Latin America or Spain” almost always lose their cultural, ethnic and national specificity when cast in mainstream roles.
“They cease to be Mexican, Spanish, Colombian, etc. and become generic ‘Hispanics’ or ‘Latinos,’ and most often, simply ‘exotic others’ who are given a set of ready-made generic features,” Marí said.
Garrigan said the terminology can get blurry when it comes to Latinos in the film industry, explaining that sometimes people use ethnicities.
“For whom is he [Iñarritu] a Latino director and for whom is he a Mexican director, and how does he describe himself I wonder,” Garrigan said. “That terminology becomes really interesting. Whenever you’re going international, you’re name changes as you shift positions, and so, I find that interesting too.”