I’m sure you’ll have stumbled across #OscarsSoWhite, a campaign that has sparked much debate and has been the focal point of many an article written in the last 2 weeks. Something which you may not know is that it’s not actually the first time the hashtag has trended before. Similarly last year there was a noticeable lack, of ethnically diverse nominations for the awards. This year however the movement seems to have gained traction and between Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and my beloved online Cosmo articles I have not been able to escape the differing opinions on the matter.
Now I must preface this post by admitting that I personally don’t really watch awards shows anymore. Not since I was a teenager eagerly awaiting the VMA’s EMA’s and MOBO’s, imagining myself performing on stage for millions of my adoring fans. A little well known fact about me I’m not ashamed to share with you is that when I was 16 my dream job was to be a popstar or more truthfully I wanted to be Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey rolled into one.
And while I concur that receiving one of the most recognised accolades in your industry must be incredibly gratifying, I have never really taken to the Movie Industry awards as I find the proceedings for want of a better word, monotonous. And the Academy Awards are no exception…
However this year I have been bombarded with so much #Oscars news, something which would customarily pass by unnoticed by me has been brought to my attention with extreme force.
Now the crux of the #OscarsSoWhite quarrel (for those of you who may have been in the far reaches of outer space recently) is that for the past 2 years the Oscars have been “whitewashed” as there have been zero Oscar Nominations for any one who is not of the Caucasian persuasion. Some celebrities have been extremely assertive in their disapproval of this and have called for a boycott of the Oscars as a measure to ensure that the continued snub to People of colour is wholly unsupported. Others have been more diplomatic in their approach but have suggested that the industry does need to make a change and that the Awards should represent diversity more proportionately, although it seems there isn’t very much agreement on how this change should be effected. Some feeling falls decidedly in the middle and a number of non white celebrities have shown little care for the Oscars or what it means for actors who are not white being excluded from nominations. And at the polar end of the dispute some have dismissed #OscarsSoWhite as essentially just the luck of the draw, and state that not everyone can be nominated nor can everybody win. And possibly the most notable comment made by one actress went so far as to say that dissatisfaction with the nominations is a sign of reverse racism.
Now I don’t know if boycotting the Oscars will have the desired effect as one Rapper turned actor stated “You can’t boycott something you’ve never been to” and I’m not sure I wholeheartedly agree that the Oscars are the problem, nor can I support statements that imply there is a lot of fuss being made about nothing. We know that racism exists, and I think to ignore or deny the fact is ignorant and somewhat foolish. Is racism as prevalent as it was 50 years ago? Possibly not, however we do know that whether it is overt or concealed it still creeps in and most definitely colours (excuse the pun) the attitude of some towards you.
That is not to say that the lack of nominations for non white individuals working in the film industry means exclusively that the Oscars are tainted or that the people voting for the nominees are necessarily racist. What I feel should be further examined is the reason why there are so few ethnic “minorities” (a term which I am loathe to use, but I’ll come back to that later) being asked to direct and being cast in prestigious roles that equate to becoming Oscar worthy films, in the first place.
When faced with such obvious inconsistency I can see why it becomes important to create your own space and do it your own way by having your own events and awards. But on the other hand by having an exclusively Black/Asian/Latino event are we not perpetrating the same segregation we fought so hard against? And are we not giving the individuals excluding us reasons to declare “well they have the BET/MOBO awards and I won’t be nominated for that?”
Now I’d like to explore this term “minority” some more.
I decided to google statistics for race in the world and I found a pie chart reflecting Global population by race:
Now if we were to take this pie chart at face value it actually suggests that White people do not in fact make up the majority of the world’s population, so where did this notion come from that every other race is a minority? Oh because we are a minority in the Western world? Of course I’m not suggesting that this pie chart is conclusive, without allowing for religious, cultural and geographical aspects also quite tellingly, white and black are lumped into one group each while there are 3 separate sub-sets of Asian. And to complicate matters even further there are also arguments against the idea of race being used as a biological factor at all. I read an article (if you’re interested here’s the link) in which an anthropologist argues that “There is no such thing as a biological entity that warrants the term ‘race’.” In essence she was arguing that race does not in actual fact exist and the obvious differences we see (in skin colour), are rather slight gradual variations that you would notice less if you walked from one end of the globe to the other.
Comparably before I stumbled across the above article and pie chart the first link I happened to click on stated:
It’s a little fuzzy but the answer to the question “Can anyone break down the racial demographics of the human race population by percentage?”
Koyel Bandyopadhyay answered “None (sic) Because “race” has no concrete biological basis. So you see, it’s hard to find a distribution or proportion of a thing that exists in our minds. Like zombies, for example”
It makes for an interesting premise that race is something which only exists in our minds, and therefore why do we use this enforced concept to define ourselves as people.
I am black, however does being “black” make up who I am? Could I still have the opinions I have without defining myself as “black”? Would I be the person I am today without growing up a “black” girl? It is true that not growing up black I may have had different experiences, however is it an important factor to be aware of ones skin colour to know who you are?
As a black female arguably I am lowest on the totem pole in terms of life’s social standing, however I cannot think of any overwhelming instances in my life that stand out as an oppressor trying to keep me down due to my ethnicity or my gender. I was always taught that I can BE anything and DO anything that I want to, and while I am very much aware that there are prejudices and discrimination I was never made to feel that I couldn’t be anything less than fantastic.
And maybe I am oversimplifying matters because the world is the way it is right now and we know negative attitudes exist and that racial stereotypes and social constructs are so insidiously ingrained in all of us so as not to be able to alter most opinions now.
Nevertheless we don’t need to let that rule us and the messages we pass on to our children and grandchildren.
If we ALL believe that we are all equal and that we ALL have the potential to be, do, say, feel and achieve anything we want, why would we need to exclude anyone from anything?
I’m particularly speaking to the disenfranchised and disillusioned, even your experiences don’t automatically infer that you need to teach your children that they will be held down, because if they believe it then the cycle will continue. I implore you to teach them that there is no difference between “us” and “them” because ultimately why should there be? And who knows, one day they may be the studio executives who get to decide who to cast, and if they’re taught not to see colour as anything other than an unimportant facet of a person, similarly to what your ankle bone looks like, then maybe there will be a better and more varied representation of the truth in our world.
*I can only express my opinions, I am by no means an activist and you probably won’t catch me marching from Selma to Montgomery (or most likely London to Birmingham) to effect a change in opinions however if my words have resonated with you in any small way then I’ll consider it a small victory.
And I’ll leave you with this video as I think Prince EA, rapper and activist says it more eloquently than I ever could.