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White Gold: Race and Representation at the Oscars

White Gold: Race and Representation at the Oscars

sid.jpgIn her opening monologue for the 79th Annual Academy Awards, host Ellen deGeneres quipped:

“Its fun to be the host, and especially of all years to be the host – this is a really big year because this is the most international Oscars ever which is a huge deal, I think.”

Though statistically her statement is actually false (2001’s 10 nominations for Tawianese production Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actually helped bring more “international” nominees overall), DeGeneres is likely referring specifically to the more visible acting categories. She goes on to point out examples of this milestone in the audience:

“Look at Penelope Cruz! We have record nominations for Mexico which is a huge deal [applause]. Spain is in the house [applause]. Japan is representin’… Look at all of you. I mean look at Djimon Hounsou. Such a diverse group of people. Amazing! Adriana Barazza, Rinko Kikuchi, Steve Carrell [laughter]: Such diverse people! I mean really think about that what a wonderful night this is. Such diversity in the room in a year when so many negative things have been said about people’s race, religion, and sexual orientation, and I wanna put this out there: If there were no Blacks, Jews and Gays there would be no Oscars [applause].”

Though deGeneres herself later apologized for accidentally suggesting that Penelope Cruz is Mexican (she is Spanish), her error falls in line with the Academy’s history of ignorance regarding diversity. While it is certainly true that “Blacks, Jews and Gays” have been instrumental in bringing the Oscars to their current prominence in contemporary culture, the Oscars themselves have not exactly given back wholeheartedly (though this is much less true regarding Jews). And when they do “give back”, it often comes across more as a political opportunity than a rewarding of cinematic talent.

This past year’s press for Oscar’s five-black-nominee surge is doing what Oscar has always done: overly celebrating its triumphs to sweep aside its tragedies. They do the same thing when an actor is overlooked for a worthy role. When Russell Crowe lost for The Insider in 2000, they gave it to him the following year for Gladiator. When Al Pacino and Paul Newman were overlooked for decades of incredible work, they gave them awards late in their careers for underwhelming films like Scent of a Woman (1993) and The Color of Money (1986). These “triumphs” are spun in the press as deserving actors finally getting their piece of the prize. This year took a similar note regarding race representation by exclaiming: “It’s a great year for the minorities! Who cares about the past!”

Though I must admit – in terms of the acting categories – the Oscars have certainly showed some recent progress. Of the eleven African-American acting winners in all of Oscar’s seventy-nine years, six of them have come since 2001. This led to a March 2007 issue of Newsweek to ask the question: “Are the Academy Awards finally colorblind?” The article sets up the debate over the complicated answer to that question:

oscarnight1.jpgOn March 24, 2002, Halle Berry crossed the stage at the Kodak Theatre to become the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for best actress. Minutes later, Denzel Washington took the best-actor award, the first black man to do so in 38 years. It was, by any measure, historic. Since 2002, 11 black actors have earned Oscar nominations. Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman have both won, and at least one black actor has been nominated every year. Last year, a record-breaking five–Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith and Djimon Hounsou– were nominated, the first two of them winning. “I certainly always hoped I’d see this day,” says Sidney Poitier, the first African-American man to win best actor. “I would have thought it would have occurred sooner.”

But things certainly aren’t perfect. The third African-American to ever win an Oscar, Louis Gossett, Jr, was quoted with skepticism: “I’m pleased all this is happening, but I hope and pray it’s not just a phase”. Denzel Washington (the only non-white double acting winner) is a tad more hopeful: “Who knows what it means for the future? I think we have to take it for just what it is–African-Americans winning awards. Beyond that, we have to wait and see.”

The article goes on to discuss the state of African-American roles today (you can’t always blame the Oscars after all – if Hollywood is giving bad roles to African-Americans, it’s not Oscars fault they aren’t rewarding them) and ends positively. But it fails in taking/to take a critical look at the disgrace/lack of racial diversity that was race representation at the Oscars prior to 2001 (and in some regards, still is). To fully answer the question that Newsweek posed, I’d like to take a thorough look back at this history, because as film critic Andrew Sarris once noted, the “Oscar show is the most closely scrutinized and widely watched entertainment event on global television”. This scrutiny is imperative because of the scope of Oscar’s influence. As Douglas Kellner notes:

Radio, television, film, and the other products of media culture provide materials out of which we forge our very identities; our sense of selfhood; our notion of what it means to be male or female; our sense of class, of ethnicity and race, of nationality, of sexuality; and of “us” and “them.” Media images help shape our view of the world and our deepest values: what we consider good or bad, positive or negative, moral or evil. Media stories provide the symbols, myths, and resources through which we constitute a common culture and through the appropriation of which we insert ourselves into this culture. Media spectacles demonstrate who has power and who is powerless, who is allowed to exercise force and violence, and who is not. They dramatize and legitimate the power of the forces that be and show the powerless that they must stay in their places or be oppressed.

There is no greater media spectacle than the Academy Awards. Stephen Holden explains that thanks to the Oscars, the American film industry “promotes its wares each year to more than a billion people in more than ninety countries worldwide – a larger audience than any global sporting event, any royal wedding – in a star-studded marathon television advertisement, good for at least three months of cunning advance buildup.”

So let us then get some facts out of the way: Hispanics make up 12.5% of the U.S. population; African-Americans make up 12.3%, Asian-Americans 3.7%. This has not been the case with the Academy Awards. Overall nomination statistics peg all three groups as representing well under 1% of seventy-nine years of nominations. For example, of the 385 Best Actress nominees, 7 of them have been African-Americans (that’s about 1.8% – acting categories have been much kinder). It is even worse for Hispanics (4 nominees, all in the past decade), and Asians (none!). It may be true that this year’s demographics were stellar: 25% of the acting nominees are black, 10% are Hispanic, and 5% are Asian. Newsweek was right to be hopeful in that regard. But this does not annihilate the past, and Newsweek does not look beyond the deception of those shiny numbers.

As African-American protestors to the 1990 Oscars exclaimed with signs outside the ceremony: “Who will win this year’s Best White Actor and Best White Actress award?”. And with just cause, as there were only 7 African-American acting nominees before 1960 and only 4 winners before 1990. The roles being represented are not promising either: the angry black man, the noble slave, the sexualized black woman – these are not exactly stereotype crushers. It is also significant that over 60% of black characters nominated for an Oscar are dead by the end of the film,!! and that the majority of black-themed Oscar picks are “safely set in the distant past, thus relieving both filmmakers and audiences from the challenge and responsibility of dealing in a direct and explicit manner with the painful realities of contemporary race relations” (Levy). A Soldier’s Story (1984), The Color Purple (1985), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Ali (2001), The Last King of Scotland (2006), and Dreamgirls (2006) are all examples of such.

In Behind The Oscar, Stephen Holden talks about Hattie McDaniel‘s pioneering win 1939:

hattieandoscar.gifGone With The Wind‘s Best Supporting Actress, Hattie McDaniel, was not merely the first black person to win an Oscar, but the first to attend an Academy banquet as a guest rather than a waitress.”

Revolutionary, yes. But what of the fact that Wind producer David Selznick had faced charges of racism from some quarters of the American left, typified by the verdict of the American Labor Party, that Wind constituted “an insult to President Lincoln and the Negro people”. As the chances for McDaniel’s Oscar grew, black newspapers “swallowed their initial complaints in favour of hymns to the artistry of the film’s black performers, above all McDaniel” . When the Oscar was handed to McDaniel, the Wind controversy seemed all but cleaned up. There was “scarcely a dry eye in the house” as McDaniel concluded her speech: “I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race, and to the motion picture industry”. The Academy was “widely hailed for its display of liberalism”. But it took over 50 years for this “liberalism” to bring another gold statuette to a black woman.

When Whoopi Goldberg became the second black woman to win an Oscar in 1991, she told the press rather revealingly:

“I never say I’m black when I’m looking for work. I just don’t admit it, because as soon as you say it, they tell you there’s no work for you. You wouldn’t say to a doctor that he couldn’t operate on your kneecap because he is black. In the same way, art should have no color and no sex.”

Goldberg’s win for Ghost was for a role that was not much less problematic and stereotypical as McDaniel’s win for playing a slave 50 years prior. As Emanuel Levy points out: Goldberg plays “a medium dressed in a gold-lame dress and sporting long hair,” operating “in the realm of otherworldly spirits: an old stereotype revamped for a new generation”. Goldberg’s character seems asexual, with no personal life her own, “channeling all her energy toward uniting lovers Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze”.

While Goldberg herself might blame the industry for poor roles for black women, it is still hard to imagine no black woman was worthy of an Oscar between 1940 and 1990. What of Dorothy Dandridge, Cicely Tyson, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Beah Richards or Alfre Woodard?

Men have faired slightly better. Sidney Poitier‘s win in 1963 was the first black person to follow in Ms. McDaniel’s footsteps. His win for Best Actor in Lillies of the Field would be the only win for an African-American in a leading role until 2002 (39 years!). Holden gets into detail regarding this event:

“[Lillies of the Field] might not have been the perfect vehicle – it overflowed, according to Newsweek, with “enough brotherhood, piety and honest labor to make even the kindest spectator retch” – but the timing was immaculate. “If ever there was a year when the Negro should be honoured, it is this year for obvious reasons. It would pour soothing oil on troubled waters,” said Sidney Skolsky.”

These “obvious reasons” was the fact that in August of that year, The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place in Washington, D.C.. It was organized principally by A. Philip Randolph, James Bevel, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. During this March, King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Between 200,000 and 500,000 people were in attendance, including many Hollywood notables: Charlton Heston, Judy Garland, and Gregory Peck.

Poitier truly did not believe he would win. Given the Academy Awards’ history with honouring African-Americans, he attended “primarily because I felt it would be good for black people to see themselves competing for the top honor, especially since we as a people had not been that close to an Academy Award for some time. Also, it might be a good career move to be present” (Holden).

According to Holden, Poitier did not have a good time. He later recalled the night in the present tense, and then followed it up by discussing his current thoughts:

“I am absolutely beside myself with nervousness. I begin making promises to myself in my mind. I say: ‘I can understand that this is an important moment and I have to be here and in fact I want to be here for what it means to us as a people, but I’m never going to put myself through this shit no more – never again under no circumstances am I going to come here again and put myself through this.”

“I do hope there will be some risidual benefits for other Negro actors, but I don’t fool myself into thinking the effect will be vast.”

“The only real change in my career [has been] the attitude of the newsmen. They started to quiz me on civil rights and the Negro question incessantly. Ever since I won the Oscar, that’s what they’ve been interested in. Period.”

It seems it was the civil rights issue that got Poitier his Oscar. While I would never imagine suggesting that Poitier wasn’t worthy (and indeed was also worthy for non-nominated roles in A Raisin in the Sun, In The Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and A Patch of Blue… Oscar obviously just threw him an award to shut people up.) The next time a black man won Best Actor (Denzel Washington for Training Day) was suspiciously also the year that Poitier won his lifetime achievement award and Chris Rock was the first black man to host. And that year they also gave Halle Berry the first “black Best Actress” award.

Personally, I question the merit of both Berry and Washington’s 2002 wins. Washington was considerably better in Malcolm X (a lead nom he lost to Al Pacino for his aforementioned “career achievement award”) and many actresses arguably deserved to win the “first black Best Actress” award before Berry. By giving these awards out at politically appropriate times, the Oscars are actually taking away from them. It is subtle racism, as if to say: “These awards are not based on merit, we just want people to call us ‘liberal’.” What I would have liked to see was an Oscar for Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption or Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction or Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple.

There’s much more to be said about the acting races, but it feels repetitive. The woes of African-Americans in these categories have been discussed many times before because, as I’ve said – it is the most visible of the categories because the recipients are often well-liked and often ‘tame’ in that there is nothing scandalous about their activities as reported in the celebrity press…celebrities. And while it is true that the last few years have had seen overwhelming potential, you have to ask yourself why. Part of it may have to do with pressure to represent a minority that makes up 12.3% of the country. But part of it might also have to do with the new economic potential of African-American stars. And perhaps as well the economic power of African Americans a the box office? Perhaps. I don’t know of any stats in this regard. Washington and Will Smith (two recent multiple nominees) are definitely two of the most bankable Hollywood actors. This influences Hollywood in giving more roles to African-Americans as a whole (seeing their financial potential) and the Academy in wanting these actors at their telecast (to boost ratings). They’re respected. They’re almost clean cut, they’re not abrasive…

More interesting is are the categories that do not present any “bankable” human entities. And that is where a problem still very much remains.

Fifty-one black performances have been nominated (out 1,500 nominated since the Oscars began). That is certainly mind-boggling, but it is better to be a black actor than a black screenwriter, director or cinematographer. In the 20 or so additional categories (it varies through the years), there have only been 53 African-American nominations. 53! The only other mildly “well-represented” category is Best Song, with 16 nominations (though 3 of those nods went to Quincy Jones).

Out of something like 16,000 nominations (it’s too difficult to come up with the exact number, considering how much variation there is in the amount of nominees each year). It is even worse if you look at how many of them are females (8 in total). Seriously, in 79 years of awarding golden statuettes, only one black director, one black producer and five black screenwriters have even been worthy of a nomination?

In 1970, African-American William Gunn was not nominated for his acclaimed screenplay for Hal Ashby‘s The Landlord. In 1984, Charles Fuller‘s adaptation of his own Pulitzer Prize winning play A Soldier’s Story lost to Peter Shafer‘s controversially misrepresentative script for Amadeus. And this trend is not really getting better. No black screenwriters have been nominated since 1997. The only black directing nod came in 1991: John Singleton (who sadly has gone on to direct the sequel to The Fast and the Furious). No Spike Lee, no F. Gary Gray, no Carl Franklin, no Antoine Fuqua. Personally, I believe only Lee, Franklin and Singleton have ever been deserving – so Hollywood is partially to blame (for proof, look at wikipedia.org’s sad comprehensive list of black directors). But Hollywood is not to blame for snubbing Lee. The year protestors held the signs suggesting the acting races were “whites only”, Lee’s heralded Do The Right Thing failed to win nominations beyond Best Screenplay (for Lee) and Best Supporting Actor (for its only white cast member, Danny Aiello). Despite winning a slew of critics awards for Best Picture and for Lee’s direction, Thing’s general omission was a wasted opportunity to reward a rich and challenging film made by and starring African-Americans. During the ceremony, presenter Kim Basinger even departed her script to protest Lee’s snub. Three years later, Lee’s more Oscar-friendly biopic Malcolm X was similarly snubbed (just nominations for Denzel Washington and costume designer Ruth Carter). And when he finally got a shot at a win in 1997 for his favoured and acclaimed documentary, 4 Little Girls, he lost to the Holocaust themed The Long Way Home.

SpikeLee.jpgBefore Lee, the vast majority of black-themed and all-black cast pictures were directed by white filmmakers, including King Vidor‘s 1929 Hallellujah and Vincent Minnelli‘s 1943 Cabin in the Sky. The all-black Carmen Jones (1954), which gave Dorothy Dandridge the first ever black Best Actress nomination, was directed by white filmmaker Otto Preminger. In fact, every winning performance by an African-American has been for a film directed by a white male (with the exception of Washington for Training Day, which was directed by Fuqua).

Perhaps the most famous example of this trend is Steven Spielberg‘s The Color Purple (1985). Bringing eleven nominations (including 3 of the 21 to-date black acting nominations), Purple became Oscar’s biggest “black film”. But there were some significant specifics regarding Purple. In addition to the aforementioned honor, the film also became Oscar’s biggest loser, not winning a single award from its nominations. And Spielberg, who won the Director’s Guild Award that year (which predicts the Oscar winner almost perfectly), failed to even be nominated. This was not the first time a white director was snubbed for helming a “black film”. In 1967, Stanley Kramer was not nominated for directing Best Picture nominee Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? In the same year, Best Picture winner In The Heat of the Night, helmed by Norman Jewison, failed to take home Best Director despite the general rule that both prizes were awarded to the same film. Driving Miss Daisy‘s director, Bruce Beresford, became the second director ever to not even be nominated for a film that won Best Picture. So it seems that not only is it rather unsettling that all Oscar-nominated “black films” prior to 1990 were directed by white men, these men were generally unrewarded as well. This trend has continued, particularly this past year when Bill Condon (a white male) was snubbed for directing an all black cast to multiple nominations in Dreamgirls.

In 1996, Dianne Huston was the only African-American nominee (out of 166) for her live-action short film, Tuesday Morning Ride. This was the lowest showing for African-Americans in many years. This sparked cover stories in news magazines and “the ire of political activist Jesse Jackson, who asked black performers to boycott the Oscar ceremonies” (Levy). Jackson threatened to organize vigorous protests, “even civil disobedience,” which never materialized. Two weeks before the show, People magazine ran a cover story entitled “Hollywood Blackout” in which it wrote: “The film industry says all the right things, but its continued exclusion of African-Americans is a national disgrace. A shocking level of minority exclusion remains.”

The article also revealed some alarming statistics in that only 3.9% of the Academy members were black. Additionally, the magazine pointed out that in the previous Oscar ceremony, even the “seat fillers” were overwhelmingly white. Editor- in-chief of Variety, Peter Bart, defended the awards, writing:

“If 1995 proved not to be a good year for black Oscar nominees, it wasn’t a good year for black movies, or any movies… But certainly positioning of Quincy Jones [as producer], and Whoopi Goldberg [as host], not to mention Sidney Poitier as a presenter, should give some clue that the Academy is hardly a bastron of racist sentiment”

I find it hard to agree that employing 3 black people clears the Oscars of racism. And contrary to Bart’s allegations, there were many worthy black movies. Particularly Spike Lee‘s Clockers, featuring an electrifying performance by Delroy Lindo, and Carl Franklin‘s Devil in a Blue Dress, for which Don Cheadle received critics’ awards and a Screen Actors Guild nomination for his supporting work. Quincy Jones acknowledges the Academy’s racism in the People article, but “puts the issue in a broader perspective” by asking: “What about Asian Americans and Latinos? Are these minorities adequately represented in the Oscar race?”. While moving the focus to even more poorly acknowledged minorities does not take away from the issues regarding African-Americans (as Mr. Jones seemed to intend to do), it does present an even more unsettling batch of information, and 1996’s ceremony is a good starting point.

Ang Lee‘s Sense and Sensibility was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in 1996, but Lee himself was snubbed in the directing category. This is despite numerous precursor awards and a Director’s Guild nomination. Five years later, Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon broke records for the most nominations for a foreign-language film and he was favoured to win Best Director after taking home the Director’s Guild Award. He would have been the first non-white person to win the award. He lost to Steven Soderburgh. Five more years later, Lee finally achieved that honour, for his homosexual love story, Brokeback Mountain. However, Mountain’s loss in many other categories (including the heavily favoured Best Picture category) sparked outcries of racism and homophobia within the Academy. Especially considering that the film that beat Mountain, Paul HaggisCrash, was a manipulative and shallow take on contemporary racism in Los Angeles written and directed by a white man from London, Ontario, Canada.

Despite his woes, Lee is by far the most nominated non-white filmmaker in the Academy’s history. He is also a huge representation of a very small minority of Asian nominees. With just under 4% of the United States population, Asian-Americans do make up a considerably smaller minority than African-Americans. However, their representation within the Academy is pitiful. Reflecting Hollywood’s Asian bias, several white performers have won for playing Asian roles. Luise Rainer won a Best Actress Oscar for The Good Earth, in which she played a wife a poor Chinese peasant. In 1944’s Dragon Seed, Katherine Hepburn and Aline MacMahon played Chinese women growing up in a small village. MacMahon received a Best Supporting Actress nomination. It was not until 1984 when the Academy recognized two Asian actors, Haing S. Ngor (who won Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields) and Noriuki “Pat” Morita (for The Karate Kid). Prior to that, Miyoshi Umeki won a 1959 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Sayonara (the first and only Asian nominated performance until 1982), and half-Asian actor Ben Kingsley won for portraying Gandhi. However, it is notable than none of the acting winners identity as “Asian-Americans” as they remain born citizens of their native countries. Since 1984, no Asian actors have won awards, and only five have been nominated, including last year’s Rinko Kichuni for Babel. An Asian actress has yet to be nominated for a leading role.

Hispanics, who actually make up the largest minority in the United States, have had only had four nominations for Best Actress, all in the past ten years (and only one of those nominees – Salma Hayek – identifies as American). None of those nominations resulted in a win. Their collective acting total is 20 nominations and 5 wins, the majority in the past decade. Javier Garcia Berumen‘s book, The Chicano/Hispanic Image in American Film, documents the ways Hispanics are typically depicted in American movies. It notes them stereotyped as “simpletons, ne’er do-wells, drug dealers, bandits and murderers”. Emanuel Levy notes:

“Frustrations have been mounting for Latino actors in Hollywood, many of whom feel disenfranchised by the industry and their own unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Although there are 23 million Latinos In the United States, SAG reports that in 1992 Latino performers in feature films amounted to only percent [of all performers].”

_40802820_wise2_bodyap.jpgThe Academy fares even worse, with about one percent of nominated performers being Hispanic. Many of these nominations were actually for non-Hispanic roles, such as Andy Garcia‘s Italian-American character in The Godfather Part III and Katy Jurado as a Native American in Broken Lance. And the first and only Latino to be nominated for Best Actor was Edward James Olmos‘ performance in 1988’s Stand and Deliver. Only two of these nominees have gone on to win: Rita Moreno for West Side Story in 1961 and Benicio Del Toro for Traffic in 2000. Both were in supporting categories. African-Americans have about 600% more wins, despite representing a smaller portion of the population.

So I suppose Quincy Jones was right. There are worse things than being African-American if you want to be rewarded for your work in the film industry. You could be Hispanic or Asian. Another horrifying trend throughout all of these statistics is the large portion of these minority representations that are male. This trend seems to actually defy race or ethnicity, as women as a whole seem equally as misrepresented any racial or ethnic minority (outside the acting categories, which obviously ensure equal representation of both genders). But women are not a demographic minority. Despite making up roughly half of the United States population, their overall representation at the Academy Awards is under five percent (not including the acting categories). And though this could be presented as its own study, I wish to briefly discuss it to further cement my claims.

As forementioned, Ang Lee is the only non-white winner of the Oscar for Best Directing. But it is also notable that Lee is the only winner in this category that is not a white, presumably heterosexual male (the issue of sexual minority representation within the Oscars begs a more extensive study than all these issues combined, so its inclusion will be left with this simple suggestion of its horrendousness). Someone somewhere must be looking at this? In seventy-nine years, only three women have been nominated for Best Director: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties in 1976; Jane Campion for The Piano in 1993; Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation in 2003. That is a tiny bit over one percent of the 385 total nominees. Several more female-directed films have been nominated for Best Picture but their directors (including Penny Marshall and Barbra Streisand) have not. Levy notes:

“For decades, women’s Oscar achievements outside acting were not much better than those of African-American artists – or other ethnic minorities. Furthermore, in the women’s case, contrary to popular notion, there was actually a backlash compared to their more visible status in Hollywood in the 1930 and 1940s, at the height of the studio system.”

In the Academy’s entire history, only two women (Bette Davis and Fay Kanin) have served as “president” of the Academy. What’s more, Levy explains, is that when Kanin was introduced at a ceremony, announcer Hank Sims accidentally introduced her as “Mr. Fay Kahin”. It was not until 1991 that a woman won a Sound Effects Oscar (Gloria S. Borders for Terminator 2: Judgement Day, though she shared the award with her male collaborator). And it wasn’t until 1995 when Marlen Gorris became the first and only female director to win Best Foreign Language Film (for Dutch entry Antonia’s Line). No women have ever won for Best Cinematography, and only three women have won for Best Editing. It is surprising (although this goes along with Levy’s quote) that more women were nominated for writing achievements in the 1930s and 1940s than any decades that followed. It took forty years between Clemence Dane‘s 1947 win for writing Vacation From Marriage and Ruth P. Jhabvala‘s 1986 win for A Room With A View. And between 1980 and 2007, of the 275 nominees for writing awards, only 3.5% of the winners were women.

So do not believe the hype. Just because Penelope Cruz, Rinko Kichuni, Jennifer Hudson, Djimon Hounsou, Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy and Will Smith all walked down the red carpet this past February (and judging from 2007’s batch, they won’t be outdone this following Februaru) does not mean all is well and good. The Oscars have still massively underrepresented minorities for years and years, and continue to do so, especially in the artistic and technical categories. This past year, the only black nominees beyond those five actors were a costume designer and a songwriter. You did not read that in the numerous celebratory articles. And women still made up under 5% of nominees outside the acting categories. While the film industry is partially to blame for giving these jobs to white men, it is undeniable that the Academy has ignored dozens of opportunities to reward worthy women and minorities that managed to make it past Hollywood’s racist and sexist hiring tendencies. So I wouldn’t start suggesting anyone is colourblind (or genderblind) just yet. Newsweek should wait until an African-American woman wins an Oscar for directing (in a year when nothing seems to be politically motivating it) before it makes such a proclamation again.

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