Oscars and race controversy

Discussions about race were back in full swing last week after the 2016 Oscar nominations were officially announced.

Discussions about race were back in full swing last week after the 2016 Oscar nominations were officially announced.

For the second year in a row, every acting honour was given to a white person. After the announcement, many prominent black Americans – including filmmaker Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith – said they would boycott the ceremony.

Not surprisingly, Twitter was flooded with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, reviving discussions on race all over the world.

But has the Academy really been racist?

According to The Economist, the number of black actors winning Oscars since 2000 has been pretty much in line with the size of America’s overall black population. Blacks are 12.6 per cent of the American population, and 10 per cent of Oscar nominations have gone to black actors.

However, this does not mean Hollywood has no problems of prejudice. In fact, the numbers suggest the imbalances are industry-wide, and they affect all ethnic minorities.

According to The Economist, since 2000, three per cent of nominations have gone to their Hispanic peers, which represent 16 per cent of the population; one per cent to those with Asian backgrounds, and two per cent to those of other heritage. In addition, no actors from ethnic minorities were nominated in 1995 or 1997, or between 1975 and 1980, and throughout the twentieth century, 95 per cent of Oscar nominations went to white film stars.

While fingers are pointing at the Academy’s 6000-odd voting members – 94 per cent of whom are white – The Economist says prejudice goes beyond the closed doors of the Academy – showing up in drama schools and casting offices across the country.

Netflix has recently released a new series where American comedian Chelsea Handler explores different aspects of modern life, including racism.

Although her series has received plenty of bad reviews, and some of her comments on race have sparked outrage, “Chelsea does racism” is worth watching.

In the hour-long episode, Handler goes to South Carolina, where she talks to men and women who absurdly say slavery wasn’t as bad as people make it. They refer to slavery as a friendly time where white and black people got along and no abuse whatsoever existed. When Handler challenged that belief – saying it might not have been such a friendly time – the men and women say they were offended by her questions.

I thought it was remarkable that in this day and age, there are still some people who carry around illusions that slavery wasn’t such a bad thing; the same way that there are still people in Canada who think residential schools weren’t so bad (believe it or not I’ve met some of these people).

Since prejudice is usually passed down from generation to generation (and we all like to think that we are not racists), if we look closely we might be surprised to learn that we all carry some sort of prejudice. I think it’s a healthy exercise to constantly be aware of our own views and challenge them – is what I think or feel based on facts or a preconceived idea?

Another significant moment that happened last week was Justin Trudeau’s statement in Davos at the World Economic Forum. Trudeau spoke about the importance of diversity to the Canadian economy and why he has given Syrian refugees such a warm welcome.

“Diversity isn’t just sound social policy, diversity is the engine of invention; it generates creativity that enriches the world.”

I hope this new wave of positivity will grow stronger, and that archaic preconceived notions will fall apart, because they obviously still haven’t.