Monday, September 25

The ‘white’ history of the Oscars: why the awards falter in racial diversity

In the years 2015 and 2016 there was not one actor or actress who was not white among the Oscar nominees. Neither African American, nor Hispanic, nor Asian. And if we look back, it is not the first time it has happened. It has happened in more than thirty editions since 1929. It happened between 1977 and 1981, for example, when there was not a single nominee from other racial groups either. It took the 2000s for African Americans, Latinos, and Asians to become commonplace.

The unexpected antagonist of the Oscars in ‘The Williams method’

Know more

If we review some data we discover that from 1929 to 2022, only 8% of the nominated actors and actresses have been of non-white race. That is, only 141 of the almost 1,790 candidates.

Let’s look back a bit. In the first twenty years of the Oscars, only Merle Oberon (of Indian origin), Hattie McDaniel (African-American) and José Ferrer (Hispanic) were candidates for best performance. Of the three, only McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1940.

Racial diversity at the Oscars

Nominations for best performance in all editions of the Oscars according to whether the person nominated was White or not white

Source: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), Notable Names Database (NNDB)

If we compare this data with that of the US Census, we find a significant gap that overrepresents white Americans. In the nineties, they accumulated 91% of the nominations although they accounted for 76% of the population. And in the first decade of the 21st century, despite having decreased to 69% of the census, they continued to monopolize 84% of the candidates.

But why does this happen? A Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that there is a prototypical profile among academics: white male over 50 years old. In this way it is easier to reward the actors and films with which they feel most identified.

In any case, we cannot forget how the film industry is built in the United States. A study from the University of California showed that there is a racial gap in Hollywood productions. That is, racial minority actors are paid less than their white peers and have fewer opportunities to get their films financed.

In any case, and without forgetting all the inequalities, thanks to the anti-racist struggle and claims, this trend has gradually been reversed. Since 2020, racialized nominees have been 23%, and in 2021 nine of the twenty nominations were for racialized actors.

Data: Raul Sanchez and Victoria Oliveres