Opinion

Lack of diversity in film calls for change in casting

The Academy Awards are trademarked by many things – glitz, glamour, gowns and excruciatingly long speeches. In recent years, the annual ceremony seems to have developed a new trademark: the guarantee that the golden statuettes will be won by white males.

The hashtag #OscarSoWhite began trending on social media upon the announcement of the 2015 Oscar nominations last month, mocking the lack of nominations for females and people of color by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In fact, for the first time since 1995, all 20 acting nominations have gone to white performers.

This outrage over the lack of diversity in Oscar voting comes on the heels of the racially charged Ferguson trial and Eric Garner case. Twitter users were quick to point out that when Lupita Nyong’o, an African-American actress, won an Oscar last year for her performance in “12 Years a Slave,” she played just that – a slave.

Other black, female Academy Award winners have won for performances as abusive mothers (Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball” and Mo’Nique in “Precious”) and maids (Octavia Spencer in “The Help”). These characters portray African-American women in far from the best light and take advantage of historical race roles.

Hollywood has yet to be colorblind in its casting. Speculations surrounding black English actor Idris Elba being cast as the new James Bond caused an outcry from those who believed Bond could not be played by anyone other than a white man, among them commentator Rush Limbaugh. “I know it’s racist to probably even point this out,” Limbaugh said on his radio program in December, “[but]we had 50 years of white Bonds because Bond is white.”

There were disbelievers about the recent Annie remake, as well. Instead of the typical redhead as the title character, African-American child actress Quvenzhané Wallis filled the role. The film’s first trailers were met with skepticism.

Negative reactions echoed that of Twitter user @stonemegan14, who wrote, “I’m not racist. ANNIE IS NOT BLACK. She is a cute little white girl with curly red hair. She does not have an Afro.” My question about that is, why can’t Annie have an afro? Why not a black Annie?

Hollywood needs to diversify itself by offering more roles typically offered to white actors to minorities. It will be less of a shock when an African American, Asian, or Hispanic actor fills a white role once the premise of a “white” role is eliminated. Movies and television offer the same universal themes, and every character presents the same human behavior and characteristics. Unless it is a period piece, race of an actor should not affect the story line of the movie.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African American, responded to the lack of diversity in nominations, saying she would “love to see … a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

When Hollywood diversifies minority roles, awards for actors of all nationalities will follow.

Kelly Brody is a sophomore majoring in journalism.

February 18, 2015

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