The media has made some progress in diversifying it’s programming, most notably in television. With shows like “Orange is the New Black”, “The Fosters”, “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” the number of people of color, women and members of the LGBT community are increasing not only in representation but also in lead roles. The popularity of this programming says something important about our society: diversity makes for a better media experience. With that being said, it is puzzling that “not a single actor of color or female director was included” in the Academy Awards nominations this year, according to The Washington Post. Though many are outraged by the lack of diversity in Hollywood and the Academy Awards nominees, we as consumers need to take some responsibility. In order to create a more accepting environment in which we need to support films that present a healthy representation of a more diverse population.
Anger at this year’s Academy Awards nominations is important and necessary if our community wants to see a change made. Nominations are “the least diverse in 17 years” according to ABC 7 News. The film “Selma” (directed by Ava DuVernay, a woman of color) is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category but the performances of the actors are being ignored. In response to the predominantly white nominations this year, the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” has been trending on Twitter recently. Raising awareness of the neglect many audience members feel will help to promote more varied programming and recognition of LGBT, people of color and women in the film industry. Viewers need to let the industry know that diversity is important to them, and that doesn’t just mean members of minority groups, it is the responsibility of everyone.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the current president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who is also the first ever black (and third female) Academy president recently presented a statement about the lack of diversity in this years nominations: “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members … And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.” Though Isaacs is hopeful for diversity in the future, that advancement “in the last two years” she mentions has disappeared in this years nominations. It is the opinion of some, however, that the problem with the Academy Awards lies elsewhere. “I don’t necessarily think that the problem with the Academy Awards is a lack of diversity in ethnicity,” De Andre Clyburn said, a junior film and media arts major. “I think the problem is the age group that runs the academy. Younger and more open-minded people need to be eligible to vote.”
While the Academy Awards does need to open itself to a more ethnically diverse population, Clyburn raises a very significant point: young filmmakers need to be taking steps to change the industry. As a female film student, I need to make an effort to hire diverse cast and crew members. It is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all others in art related majors, to make art that realistically reflects our generation.
Organizations on campus are already making great progress in developing a diverse filmmaking community. Delta Kappa Alpha, a professional co-ed cinema fraternity here at the University of Tampa prides itself on being a “values based” organization with a goal to “create artists of character” through collaborative efforts. Out of DKA’s 45 members, 23 of them are female and 18 are people of color. “It’s no secret that the film industry is a predominantly Caucasian male industry. With all the commotion about the Oscars this year, it’s important to remember that it’s our generations job to make the film industry as varied, accepting and collective as possible. That’s why I have so much respect for organizations like Delta Kappa Alpha,” said Alexandria Woodard, President of the Kappa Chapter of Delta Kappa Alpha. “We take pride in the fact that we’re inclusive, diverse and collaborative with other organizations such as the Film Society and the entire film community on campus. We’re all learning how the industry works and what to expect from it when we graduate.”
Through DKA, members have a safe environment to cultivate their stories. If film students become committed to including those who are different from them, whether it be sexual orientation, gender, or race, films of the future will be enriched with more diversity and greater depth. The lack of diversity in the film industry is a problem for the industry at large and is not exclusive to the academy. Changing the Academy Awards means changing the industry and that starts with us.
Sam Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org