None of this year’s 10 nominees for Best Picture deals with issues of race, and all of them feature mostly white casts. Should we be disturbed?
There is something very telling about the homogenous make-up of this year’s ten Oscar nominees for Best Picture – and to an extent we shouldn’t be particularly surprised.
If we want to understand why there will be a poverty of black and other “non-white” voices present at this year’s Oscars, we must consider the tendency of Hollywood and the North American culture industry in general to project the “white” perspective to its audiences as though it were the legitimate perspective in art.
While many mainstream Hollywood movies directed at the “average” U.S. 18- to 28-year-old have ethno-racially diverse casts, themes and target demographics, this is not usually the case with the more artistic pieces that are traditionally up for Academy nominations. There seems to be a tendency among the people with real clout in the movie industry – those who are making and financing the films – to presume (however falsely) that they are making their artistic films for a white audience. This goes some way in explaining the disconnect between the more diverse perspectives conveyed in mainstream action films, for instance, and the dominant white perspective represented in this and previous years’ Academy nominations.
This year’s slate of nominated films also raises questions about the extent to which Hollywood films are addressing the serious and persistent race issues still endemic to our culture. Even in previous years, when black actors and directors were nominated or won for their films, it could be argued that these issues were ill-addressed by the films in question. Recent Academy-endorsed films such as Invictus or Precious, for example, avoided confronting racism head on or obfuscated the issues in various ways.
What is particularly alarming is that this failure is occurring in the context of conversations going on in the United States and elsewhere right now about the onset of a “post-race” or “post racism” moment, one symbolized by the election of Barack Obama. There remains good reason to pause and consider whether Hollywood is actually helping to construct, even if indirectly or accidentally, a narrow and markedly white-dominated vision of the world.