As Motion Picture Academy members cast their ballots for Oscar nominations this week, the biggest issue for many voters isn’t about who might be nominated but about the diversity of this year’s acting class.
Their fear: The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite will be trending on social media again.
The academy found itself on the defensive last year when white actors earned all 20 of the nominations in the lead and supporting categories. The topic came to define the Academy Awards so much that host Neil Patrick Harris opened the ceremony by quipping: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.”
Yet there’s a strong chance this year’s acting awards will once again be heavily, perhaps exclusively, white, despite the efforts of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to diversify the organization.
In the four acting categories, only Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) sits among the forecasted nominees at Gold Derby, a website compiling the predictions of two dozen Oscar pundits.
That could change by the time nomination balloting closes Friday, with some close observers saying that the prospect of another #OscarsSoWhite controversy could even influence the voting.
“If it’s all-white again, nobody’s going to be happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” said USC history professor Steve Ross, author of several books about Hollywood politics. “It has to be a good performance, but, for some, if they’re deciding between Will Smith and somebody else, they might just go for Will Smith because of what happened last year.”
Some academy members worry privately that another backlash could damage the institution’s reputation, particularly as award shows such as the Emmys and Grammys feature prominent winners of color.
Oscar voters, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitive nature, seem split between going with their instincts and casting a ballot with an eye toward maintaining the group’s relevancy.
“I don’t see how you can nominate another group that doesn’t include any actor of color and think you’ll be taken seriously,” one actors branch member said.
F. Gary Gray, director of the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton” who joined the academy this year, offers a different view.
“I’m not going to allow politics to influence my judgment because then that defeats the purpose,” said Gray, who is African American. “That’s not how I make movies and it’s not how I’ll vote. If something moves me and touches me, that’s probably the direction I’ll go.”
This year’s prominent contenders of color include Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”), Will Smith (“Concussion”) and Samuel L. Jackson (“The Hateful Eight”). Gray’s “Compton,” nominated in December for a SAG Awards ensemble prize, is also in the mix, as is transgender actress Mya Taylor, who earned a Spirit Awards nomination for her turn as an L.A. prostitute in the indie film “Tangerine.”
“You definitely want the people who decide these things to reflect society,” said “Creed” writer-director Ryan Coogler. “There’s empowerment in representation. It means so much when you see somebody who’s like you up there on that stage.”
The academy responded to the #OscarsSoWhite criticism in June, inviting 322 new members, its largest class ever. The demographically broad group reflected a concerted move toward “a normalization of our membership to represent both the industry and the country as a whole,” academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs told The Times in an interview at the time.
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SOURCE: L.A. Times – Glenn Whipp