The year is 2015 and all the Academy Award acting nominees are white. There is a grand total of one black film running for Best Picture. Any other race or ethnicity isn’t even an after thought. What Hollywood is trying to say with this is very simple. The only stories that matter are stories about white people struggling through something. You know, #whitepeopleproblems and stuff. This is not to say that Stephen Hawking isn’t a badass or that his story isn’t inspirational. What I’m trying to say is something similar to what Ridley Scott recently said when he was questioned about the decision to cast all white people on his movie Exodus, which happens to take place in Egypt, which is in Africa.
“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such,” Scott says. “I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.” (Variety)
Basically, the only way to be considered seriously and get funded for a major production is if your cast is all white. It may also help if you as a director/producer are also white. Major points if the story you’re trying to tell can somehow translate to the white struggle. In the case of Exodus, the struggle is about power, so I definitely see how that can be turned into a white narrative. The same rules apply if you want to get any attention from the Academy. If you want to tell a story about anything else, though, you may have a chance at running in the Foreign Language Film category as long as you’re foreign enough. But does the average American consumer care about this category? No. The answer is no. The only stories that matter are stories about white people.
It’s hard not to think about all the media coverage on police brutality and the frequency in which innocent black people lose their lives to systematic racism. It’s hard not to think about all the immigrant kids from South America that are being treated like pestilent cattle by the American people. It’s hard not to think about the possibility that the public will keep ignoring these and other world issues as long as there are stories about white people overcoming adversity. Ethnic stories are not turned into Academy Award winning films because the world only needs white heroes.
Shout out to Alejandro González Iñárritu for his nomination in the Directing category. He makes me feel validated about going to film school and thinking that my point of view also matters. Shout out to Selma for telling a story that makes white people feel uncomfortable. Feeling comfortable with oppression and racism is never okay. Shout out to Wild Tales and Timbuktu for bringing diversity to the Foreign Language Film category. I hope that one day diversity is celebrated across all categories. Until then, the Academy Awards are for white people, and you’re not invited.