Media Coverage of OscarsSoWhite

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The reason behind #OscarsSoWhite

#OscarSoWhite began as a Twitter trend on January 15th, 2015 because of the lack of inclusion of people of colour in Hollywood award nominations. The 87th Oscars released its 2015 nominees that only included white actors. The same percentage as previous years. It was the last straw for black Twitter when April Reign[1] began the movement, with a tweet that put the Oscars on notice. “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.”

April Reign's Tweet from January 15, 2015

The movement received great support from social media because people of colour from the largest hit movies in 2015 were overlooked.[2] Both movies had a strong black cast as lead actors. Straight outta Compton, and Creed. Much concern was raised because only the white writers received nominations for the movies, even though the white writers worked with black writers. Following the trend #OscarsSoWhite, Spike Lee announced that the Oscars should be boycotted and received support from Jada Pinkett and social media.

History of the Oscars diversity problem

Throughout its lifespan, the representation of people of colour, LGBTQ, people with disabilities and women have been few and far apart. Even prior to the #OscarsSoWhite movement, a host of prominent figures have openly criticized the lack of diversity among the nominees.

Statistics from Academy Awards since 1929, suggest that only 6.4% of the nominees have been non-white. Since 1991, 11.2% of nominees have been non-white, with the rate of winners being even more polarizing.[3]

The first Academy Award ceremony was held in 1929, however, it wasn’t until 1940 that Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to be nominated and win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Gone With The Wind”.  She was subsequently joined 8 years later by Latino actor, Thomas Gomez for his nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Ride The Pink Horse. In 1975, Sammy Davis Jr. was the first person of colour to host. Since then, there have only been 4 other people of colour who have hosted the Oscars, including Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock and Kevin Hart. 1975 to 1981 saw a “White Out” as no person of colour was nominated for a single film for that period of time.

Minorities have been receiving disproportionate representation in comparison to their population in the US. In 2019, ethnic minorities made up a little over 40 percent of the US population, 33 percent of mainstream film roles, and just 17 percent of Oscars nominees in the five years since 2016 — an underrepresentation ratio of more than two to one.

Women are typically left out of the technical roles. Women account for 44 per cent of mainstream film actors — less than their 51 per cent share of the US population — but just 26 per cent of producers on Hollywood films, 16 per cent of writers and 8 per cent of directors, according to research by professor Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. [4]

The success for diverse actors has been seen for films that pose certain stereotypes of people of colour that fulfill roles, limited to the working class and abused, and are primarily told through the lens of white male directors. During an interview at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, ‘Selma’ star David Oyelowo said “We as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings, or being the centre of our own narrative driving it forward”. [5]

Over the course of its 92 years, the Oscars have recognized a number of diverse roles that were played by White actors. This speaks to the organization’s long legacy of exclusion. More white actresses have won Oscars for yellow-face portrayals of Asian characters than actual Asian actresses. A prominent example includes Laurence Oliver, Legendary British actor was nominated for best supporting actor for his role as Othello in 1965 where he wore black face.[6][7]

Oscars have been known to have a sizeable LGBTQ viewership. Over 50 straight actors have been nominated for playing queer characters and only 14 have won. In the 92 years of the Oscars, All but 16 men of the nominees for best director have been cisgendered white men. In 2017, ‘Moonlight’ was the first LGBTQ film to win best picture. [8] 

87th and 88th Academy awards (2015 and 2016 respectively) were considered to be the worst years for diversity within the Oscars since 1998. In 2015, all 20 acting nominees were of Caucasian descent. 2016, saw the second consecutive year when all twenty acting nominees and four out of the five directors nominated were Caucasian.[9]

Media coverage of the #OscarsSoWhite movement - Then and Now

Social Media played a vital role in the start of the #OscarsSoWhite coverage. It gathered 3.5 million engagements to the stories covering the movement[10], with 2016 being the highest year of engagement. Since the start of the movement till recent times, media coverage and engagement to the lack of diversity in Academy Award nominations have gone down. The movement received some backlash in 2016 as some celebrities were against boycotting the Oscars. 17k articles were published in 2016 reacting to the movement with the most engaged articles slamming the movement. Katherine Ellis, a Journalist for NewsWhip created a diagram explaining the backlash against the movement.

Top ten most engaged stories about #OscarsSoWhite in 2016:

BRIETBART.COM Stacey Dash to ‘Oscars So White’ Crowd: If You Don’t Want Segregation, ‘Get Rid of BET’ 169,933
ABCNEWS.GO.COM Charlotte Rampling Clarifies Controversial Diversity Remarks 139,237
POLITICALO.COM Bristol Palin: “All Black Actors Look The Same, How Can We Choose One To Get The Oscar?” - Newslo 93,365
BUZZPO.COM Stacey Dash: If We Don’t Want Segregation, ‘Get Rid of the NAACP and BET!’ - BuzzPo 83,249
IJREVIEW.COM If Anyone Tells You the Oscars Are ‘Too White,’ Have Them Take a Look at This List 64,368
BREITBART.COM Oscar Winner Michael Caine: ‘You Can’t Vote for an Actor Because He’s Black’ 62,375
IJREVIEW.COM People Said the Oscars Were Too ‘White,’ So Jimmy Kimmel Came Up with a Stinging Solution 59,689
MEDIAITE.COM Ice Cube Dismisses Oscars Boycott: We Do Movies for the People, Not the Industry 59,528
YOUNGCONS.COM Meme Perfectly Compares NBA and Oscars and Destroys Racist Liberals 59,262
IJREVIEW.COM Will and Jada Pinkett Smith Get Earful from Fresh Prince Co-Star Over ‘White Oscars’ Boycott 54,659

*Source: NewsWhip Analytics from 1st January to 31st December 2016 only

With the movement receiving large amounts of support, the Oscars were able to improve their nominations by being more inclusive to people of colour. The 91st academy award in the year 2019 celebrated a record number of winners of colour[11]. However, in 2020, the academy reverted back to old habits by snubbing actors of colour once again. Coverage since 2016 has taken a different turn from backlash, to showing a lot more support for the movement. The diagram posted by Katherine Ellis from NewsWhip shows that 677 articles about #OscarsSowhite was published in 2020, but engagements weren’t as high as that of 2016.

Top ten most engaged stories about #OscarsSoWhite in 2020:

HOLLYWOODREPORTER.COM Oscars Almost So White as Diverse Nominees Overlooked After 2019’s Historic Wins 3,345
VOX.COM The lack of diversity among the 2020 Oscars nominees feels disappointingly 2,737
HUFFPOST.COM A Reminder: The Oscars Are Still Very White 2,185
NEWS.SKY.COM Oscars: Top nominations overwhelmingly white and male 2,051
DEADLINE.COM Oscars Nominations Lack Diversity in Major Categories, Continues #OscarsSoWhite Franchise 1,828
NEWSANDGUTS.COM Hollywood Reporter: Oscars Almost So White as Diverse Nominees Overlooked After 2019’s Historic Wins – News & Guts Media 1,658
INDEPENDENT.CO.UK Congratulations to those men - what are the Oscars even for anymore? 1,645
NERDIST.COM What Kinds of Movies Are the Oscars Ignoring? - Nerdist 1,432
HIGHSNOBIETY.COM The Oscar Nominations Are so White Again & Twitter is Angry 1,404
VULTURE.COM The Oscars? Still So White. 1,193

*Source: NewsWhip Analytics from 1st January to 27th January 2020 only

Negative Feedback and Comments

Although a great deal of support and acknowledgement was received towards the #OscarsSoWhite movement, plenty of individuals did not share the same view. A number of people voiced their opinions stating that they felt boycotting the Oscars was “Futile”. Clint Eastwood, at an interview with TMZ, stated that “ [there are] thousands of members in the Academy who haven’t won awards [and that] a lot of people are crying,” diminishing the issue.[12]

Host of 2016 Oscars, Chris Rock, received criticism for his insensitive “Joke” about people of Asian Heritage. During the show, Rock introduced onstage three children of Asian heritage posing as accountants for PricewaterhouseCoopers saying "They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard working representatives... Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz." He also added "If anybody's upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids."[13] 25 members of the Academy of Asian descent signed a letter condemning Rock's skit saying - "In light of criticism over #OscarsSoWhite, we were hopeful that the telecast would provide the Academy a way forward and the chance to present a spectacular example of inclusion and diversity. Instead, the Oscars show was marred by a tone-deaf approach to its portrayal of Asians."[14]

Change in Diversity

Progress has slowly been made in filmmaking in terms of diversity in the last decade. While minority representation in film still remains far from being proportionate to the population, it is steadily increasing.

According to a 2019 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, the percentage of minorities in lead roles has increased from 10.5% in 2011 to 19.8% in 2017. This represents an increase from one to two out of every ten actors. For context, minorities represent roughly 34.9% of the United States’ population. The amount of lead roles performed by women has also gradually increased throughout the decade. In 2011, women made up only 25.6% of lead roles in films. Today that figure has increased to nearly one third or 32.9% of roles. However, there remains a long way to go.

Overall cast diversity has also enjoyed a steady increase from 2011-2017. For example, 51.2% of films produced in Hollywood featured casts that were less than 11% minority in 2011. In 2017 that figure has decreased by nearly half. Films with 41 to 50% minority casts increased from a shocking zero up to 10.2% in the same period. This trend changes depending on minority race, however. Black actors made up 12.5% of total actors in 2016 and only 9% in 2019. Latinos, on the other hand, grew from 2.7 to 5.2% from 2016 to 2017.

Like actors, directors have also seen some positive trends in terms of diversity. But minority and female representation in directing roles has only increased a fraction when compared to actors. Since 2011 roughly 87 percent of all directors have been white, with an increase to almost 90 percent in 2015, the year of #OscarsSoWhite. Minorities have made up just over 12 percent during the same time frame. This means only about one in ten Hollywood film directors are people of colour. Women directors share nearly the same figure which doubled from 2016 to 2017. Not only is there a great disparity within each profession, there lies an even greater disparity when comparing actors and directors. People of colour earning directing roles is important as it often increases the amount of coloured people who appear in the film.

As people of colour (and women) are marginalized in the film industry, so too are they when it comes to accolades of artistic achievement. Movies with directors of colour — which won at least one Oscar award — increased from none in 2011 to 20 percent in 2017. Whereas the amount of female-directed has significantly decreased in Oscar count in the same time period. The share of films that won an Oscar and also featured a person of colour lead peaked in 2016 at 40 percent. This figure steeply declined to 20 percent the following year at the Academy Awards.

Moving forward: the future of the Oscars

The impact of the #OscarsSoWhite movement remains in question.

While the slow but steady progress of diverse representation in the film industry and the Academy Awards is encouraging, there remains a long way to go. The Academy has since made a deliberate effort to diversify. In fact, 2019 saw the most Oscar winners of colour in history. The #OscarsSoWhite movement undoubtedly helped fuel this process with its extensive media coverage. Lack of diversity within the film industry is now in the spotlight and has received critical examination. And although progress has been largely minimal, new conversations surrounding race in Hollywood drive the effort to diversify.

Diversification in the Oscars begins with diversification of the television and film industry. Actors are a crucial part of the equation but directors may be the key to success. Very few films are directed and produced by people of colour, despite the modest positive trend over the last several years. A study released by the Directors Guild of America[15] “shows that discriminatory practices are still rampant across every corner of the feature film business. These numbers hit home how the chips are stacked against women and people of color,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme[16].

Without a doubt the movement has catapulted examination of the diversity problem, even if little meaningful change has occurred. But at least the conversation has been brought forth and shifted dramatically. Diversity has always been an issue since the inception of film and television in the United States and globally. Until recently, however, this issue was rarely discussed and let alone gained any significant media attention. Online movements with the help of social platforms like Facebook and Twitter have enjoyed greater power in gaining media attention. This is because information not only spreads quicker, but has a farther reach of influence as well.

Media attention combined with America’s increasingly diverse population have created a higher demand for diverse film and television programs. Recently produced movies like Crazy Rich Asians, Parasite and particularly Black Panther illustrate not only the hunger for such films, but the massive success they bring. “Black Panther” was nominated for Best Picture but did not win the Oscar. Regardless, the movie made history. It won three awards for Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score in 2019. These films reflect diversity in both their cast and directors. They also prove that diverse movies are often very financially successful.

It’s evident that the steadily growing diverse American population has an appetite for films which reflect the population. People of colour want movies with characters they can relate to and that drive the story, instead of merely being relegated to supporting roles. Contrary to what once believed, films featuring overwhelmingly white casts do not always reach the widest audiences possible.

The #OscarsSoWhite movement has not gone away and continues to be relevant today, perhaps now more than ever. Social media gave a powerful platform for those in the industry to voice concerns over underrepresentation, not only at the Academy Awards, but in the entire industry. Despite criticism and pushback within the industry, the movement is gaining mom

entum. Only time can tell if the movement will ultimately succeed. Regardless, a hashtag and tweet propelled the problem of racism in Hollywood into the media spotlight and will continue to facilitate meaningful change. [17]

  1. Ugwu, Reggie. "The Hashtag That Changed the Oscars: An Oral History".
  2. "#MOVEME A guide to Social Movements and Social Media - #OSCARSSOWHITE".
  4. "The Oscars Diversity Problem in Charts". 6 February 2020.
  5. "A Brief History Of Diversity At The Oscars".
  6. Moreno, Carolina. "11 Times The Oscars Honored White Actors For Playing People Of Color".
  7. Morgan, Thad (25 February 2019). "Casting White People in Asian Roles Goes Back Centuries".
  8. Knegt, Peter (6 February 2020). "A brief history of LGBTQ representation at the Oscars".
  9. Keegan, Zeitchik, Rebecca, Steven (14 January 2016). "Oscars 2016: Here's why the nominees are so white -- again".
  10. Ellis, Katherine (27 January 2020). "How has #OscarsSoWhite media coverage changed since 2015?".
  11. Ugwu, Reggie (9 September 2020). "The Hashtag That Changed the Oscars: An Oral History".
  12. Desta, Yohana (25 January 2016). "Every major celebrity who's commented on the Oscars diversity controversy".
  13. Roberts, Randall (29 February 2016). "Chris Rock's Oscars joke about Asian American accountants stirs outrage".
  14. Feinberg, Scott (15 March 2016). "Ang Lee, George Takei Among 25 Academy Members Protesting Oscars' Asian Jokes".
  15. "Directors Guild Of America".
  16. Berger, Laura (22 June 2018). "Research: New DGA Study Shows Lack of Opportunity for Women and Minority Feature Directors".
  17. Hunt, Dr. Darnell. "Hollywood Diversity Report 2019" (PDF).