No awards to the Academy for diversity

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Linell Ajello, Áine Duggan, Gail Cooper, Sudha Rao

Broadcasts of the Academy Awards are second only to the Super Bowl in bringing the most Americans together to watch a televised event in real time. In 2014, 43 million viewers tuned in to the show, and 19 million related tweets went out, including Ellen DeGeneres’s “selfie,” the most retweeted tweet in Twitter’s history. Despite the “Who will win?” fever that infects every media outlet in the first two months of the year, the outcome of the Academy Awards has never, ever been in doubt: Far more men than women will win the golden statuette and far more white people than people of color. Far. More. For example, a recent study shows that from 1927 to 2010, 226 women won the award out of the 2,357 that were conferred (not including acting or foreign film categories). In the 84-year history of the awards (the study was produced in 2011), nine women of color and 14 men of color have won in the acting categories.

The show, and the awards themselves, are a national tradition, upheld by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who choose the nominees and winners. In 2013, the membership was comprised of 6,028 voters who, based on a Los Angeles Times analysis, were 93 percent white and 76 percent male. Jessica Goldstein writes that a notion of “tradition” is key to understanding the lack of diversity: “members of the Academy (like all humans) feel safer being told stories they already know, stories that confirm the vision they have of themselves as inherently good, triumphant people. That’s why World War II movies get nominated so often. That’s why it’s easier to celebrate 12 Years a Slave, a movie about what feels like America’s ancient past and on a subject about which we can all agree—slavery = bad—than it is to acknowledge the tremendous feat of filmmaking that is this year’s Selma, a movie about America’s all-too-recent past that includes scenes of bloodshed at peaceful protests that look just like footage from Ferguson.”

Though Goldstein thinks that the academy “wants to be relevant,” she points out that their approach to the kind of inclusion that would allow the show to represent the country as a whole is blinkered. For example, a vast gulf exists between the identities of people buying movie tickets, the characters seen on screen and the people celebrated for making the movies. Statistics from the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. show that women in the U.S. and Canada made up 52 percent of moviegoers and 50 percent of ticket purchasers in 2013, yet the ratio of men to women nominees (not including acting categories) is 5 to 1 for the 2015 cycle. There are seven categories in which no woman is nominated at all (directing, writing—original or adapted screenplay, cinematography, original score, visual effects and sound mixing). In fact, from 2012 to 2014 no women were nominated in three of those categories—directing, cinematography and visual effects.

Likewise, this year has been dubbed #OscarsSoWhite because there were no nominees of color in any of the acting categories. A study of 600 popular films from 2007 to 2013 by the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California shows that 5 percent of the characters with speaking roles in those films were Latino/a, 4 percent were Asian, 1 percent were Middle Eastern, 1 percent were from “other” races/ethnicities and less than 1 percent were American Indian or Alaskan Native. Yet from 2009 to 2013, movie attendance was highest among Latinos (6 times per year) and blacks and other people of color (4 times per year), and lowest among white moviegoers (3 times annually).