The conversation that the #OscarSoWhite hashtag, Jada Pinkett Smith’s tweet and video, and Spike Lee’s Facebook post began—about the fact that black actors are not recognized and rewarded at the Academy Awards—is going full steam ahead.
Academy Award winner George Clooney jumped into the fray during an interview with Variety and argued that African Americans “have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough.”
He talked about how the industry seems to be regressing when it comes to acknowledging African-American performances that are, at the very least, worthy of a nomination.
“If you think back 10 years ago, the academy was doing a better job. Think about how many more African Americans were nominated,” Clooney said. “Let’s look back at some of the nominees. I think around 2004, certainly there were black nominees like Don Cheadle, Morgan Freeman. And all of a sudden, you feel like we’re moving in the wrong direction.”
He rattled off a bunch of movies off the top of his head that he thinks should definitely have gotten some love from the academy, and even mentioned a film from last year’s awards cycle that should have secured a black female director a nomination.
“There were nominations left off the table. There were four films this year: Creed could have gotten nominations; Concussion could have gotten Will Smith a nomination; Idris Elba could have been nominated for Beasts of No Nation; and Straight Outta Compton could have been nominated. And certainly last year, with Selma director Ava DuVernay—I think that it’s just ridiculous not to nominate her,” Clooney argued.
There’s the current crop of black performances that are worthy of recognition, but on the other side of that, there are also boatloads of films and opportunities that black actors aren’t given, simply because certain projects aren’t being green-lit by studio executives. Clooney touched on that, too, paraphrasing arguments that African-American movie-machine observers have made time and time again.
“I would also make the argument, I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is, How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?” Clooney asked rhetorically. Not many.
“By the way, we’re talking about African Americans. For Hispanics it’s even worse. We need to get better at this. We used to be better at it,” Clooney said.
The unfortunate thing about this #OscarSoWhite ordeal is that, going forward, if black actors and actresses are nominated more appropriately across the board, I fear people will think that it’s an “affirmative action” nomination, meaning that they were nominated simply because of the outcry to get black actors recognized at the Academy Awards. And not because of their actual performances and talent.
I think the vast majority of the people who sit on the academy voting board (something like 75 percent of those individuals are white men) tend to view our talent and art as different. It’s almost as if they think black actors aren’t really acting, aren’t really detaching themselves from themselves to bring these fictitious souls to life. It’s very odd.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.