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The Unbearable Whiteness of the Oscars, Explained in a GIF

  | February 24, 2016 09:16 IST (New Delhi)
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Hattie McDaniel in a still from Gone With The Wind.

The Academy's ignoring of non-white talent is a sin of omission that has been perpetuated ever since the 1920s, when the Oscars were first presented. The Associated Press has tweeted a GIF that compares the white nominations with the Black, Asian and Latino till date. The numbers are as alarming as they are sad - 812 vs 49, 9 and 19

Next month, 25 of Hollywood's best talent will compete at the biggest award show in town. Of these 25, only one - Alejandro G Inarritu, the Mexican director of The Revenant - is not white. The whiteout of 2016 follows the whiteout of 2015 and the Academy is now going to meet next week to discuss and resolve the lack of diversity that has seen it take a lot of heat recently. It will be long overdue.
The lack of acknowledgment this year is not because of a corresponding lack of worth - Creed's Michael B Jordan, Beasts of no Nation's Idris Elba, Concussion's Will Smith have been invoked for public attention. Just this week, George Clooney told Variety that the Oscar report card on race equality used to be better 10 years ago. "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 said. (Also Read: George Clooney Reminds Academy They 'Used to be Better' at Diversity)
Inspiring as it sounds, that's not entirely true. The Academy's ignoring of non-white talent is a sin of omission that has been perpetuated ever since the 1920s, when the Oscars were first presented. The Associated Press has tweeted this GIF that compares the white nominations with the Black, Asian and Latino till date. The numbers are as alarming as they are sad - 812 vs 49, 9 and 19.
 
The first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel, up for Best Supporting Actress for Gone With The Wind - she won. There have been only 14 other African-American winners of the acting Oscars - Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spence, Mo'Nique, Lupita Nyong'o, Cuba Gooding Jr and Louis Gossett Jr. A smattering of awards in other categories include Best Picture for 12 Years A Slave's Steve McQueen and Oscars for Best Score or Best Song for Prince, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Irene Cara, Common and John Legend. (Also Read: #OscarsSoWhite: How Winners Should Respond to Boycott by Black Actors)
Hispanic representation had to wait till 1950, with Puerto Rican Jose Ferrer being nominated for and winning Best Actor for Cyrano de Bergerac. Anthony Quinn, Benicio Del Toro and Rita Moreno were awarded in subsequent years. 2013 and 2014 were glory years for Latin-American nominees with Mexicans Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro G Inarritu winning Best Director for Gravity and Birdman and their Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki scoring for both films. Lupita Nyong'o, who is of Kenyan extraction, is also Mexican by citizenship.
The list of Asian winners is even shorter. The actors on the roster are Yul Brynner (of Mongolian descent), Ben Kingsley (who is British but of Indian heritage), Cambodian-American Haing S Ngor and Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki. The list also includes director Ang Lee and three Indians - composer A R Rahman, sound engineer Resul Pookutty and costume designer Bhanu Athaiya.
So when George Clooney says, "We used to be better at it," nobody need nod along. The room for improvement is vast and ought to begin with more work for actors of colour in Hollywood's prestige projects (the commercial blockbusters have already figured out that the box office does not discriminate) - a message for the upper echelons of the film fraternity, and that includes Mr Clooney who starred in the massively praised The Descendants, a film set in Hawaii but lacking in any ethnic Hawaiians.
 

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