The Oscars spark heated discussion almost every year, but in 2015 there’s an extra dimension to the debate: a decided lack of non-white faces on the nominee list. In fact, this year has been the worst for diversity since 1998–with not one Best Actor or Best Actress nominee being anything other than Caucasian.
By comparison, last year’s Oscars included nominations for Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave), Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)–with the first two actors taking home statues.
The resulting controversy of this year’s lack of non-white faces has sparked a new hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, and re-energized debate about roles for non-white thespians in Hollywood.
“The Academy is more than 90% white,” says Sasha Stone, editor of the popular movie-award blog awardsdaily.com. “Voters let very few actors of color into the ‘club.’ Denzel Washington is one, Jamie Foxx is another. They tend to be big, likable stars. There is the sense that they ‘did their duty’ last [year] with 12 Years a Slave winning Best Picture and Screenplay, though it seemed that many in the industry were not behind it 100%.”
As Stone goes on to point out, it’s not entirely the fault of those in charge, who have a very small window during which to vote, and many of whom likely didn’t see some of the films. However, as the rising backlash on social media has demonstrated, the importance of diversity and equal representation is a subject close to many people’s hearts.
Will this kind of outcry have an impact on future nominations? It’s possible. “Mobilization does help,” Stone says. “In 2009, when The Dark Knight was shut out, it caused such an uproar that the Academy expanded its Best Picture field from five to 10. They do care what people think of them. The more awareness that’s brought to what is becoming, more and more, an exclusive club for one aspect of American culture, the better for the Oscars, [and] the better for the industry.”