The Oscars have never been a big deal to me. The few times I’ve caught the show on TV, it seems like a small group of people celebrating themselves. Of course they’re famous, wealthy, and mostly white. As a teenager and a person of color, it’s never felt relevant.Recently the media blew up; there was Twitter post after post with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is coming under heat for not including any black nominees in the top categories in 2016. I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed, because there were so many great black films last year.
I was especially impressed by “Straight Outta Compton”’s portrayal of black lives in the music industry and things we witness on our own lawns every day. But “Straight Outta Compton” was only nominated for screenwriting, and the movie’s writers are — you guessed it — white.
Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were portrayed in “Straight Outta Compton” by their own sons, Corey Hawkins and O’Shea Jackson Jr. This is significant to me, because these are young, black actors who aren’t being recognized. The Oscars are ignoring not just the black community, but also young talent. I feel like starting my own hashtag, #OscarsSoOld. As a teenager, I don’t have anything to connect to in the show.
In comparison, at the BET Awards show, you see a lot of youth receiving awards, or presenting, or even just in the crowd having a good time. Growing up, the BET Awards was a day for my family to get together and watch a show that made us feel united. My mom would always record the red carpet and the awards ceremony. It was exciting to see some of my favorite artists walk the red carpet, and to be introduced to up-and-coming talent who resembled me, young and African American. The awards ceremony seemed connected to youth culture and to my community.
Last year, ratings for the Oscars ceremony declined 16 percent, by 6.9 million viewers. It was the Oscars’ lowest viewership in the past six years, and it was also a year when no people of color were nominated for acting awards. Given that the youth and people of color are a huge part of the population, the declining ratings make sense.
I can’t even be counted as someone following the call to boycott this year’s Oscars because of its race problem. I was never planning to watch in the first place.
The academy has said it will double the number of women and people of color among their members by 2020. I’m not sure why it takes so long, but I’m going to have to see some big changes before I’ll want to “thank the Academy” for anything.No Role Models For Me At The Oscars by Nila Venkat
Growing up, I loved going to the movies with my dad. Back then, I didn’t really notice the overwhelming whiteness of people I saw on the silver screen. If anything, I accepted whiteness as normal, and I expected that a Hollywood movie wouldn’t have actors that looked like me, except in minor filler roles. It honestly didn’t bother me for years, because I had no idea there could be an alternative.
But in the past few years, television has offered a new standard for diverse casting and multicultural narratives. Recently, there have been TV shows that feature people of color and tell the stories of their lives. With “The Mindy Project,” “Fresh Off The Boat,” and “Blackish,” I realized that non-white actors could be the stars of their own shows and tackle (while having fun with) racial stereotypes.
The day I heard about “Master of None,” I rushed home from school, told my parents I was doing homework in my room, and then marathon-ed the entire season. I could hardly believe there would be a show depicting Indian American life. I had to see it.
After years of trying to find similarities between myself and hundreds of white actors, I finally found a show that actually represented me. At times I felt that Aziz Ansari (who plays Dev Shah on the show) had produced the script of my life. When Ansari’s parents describe the hardships that they faced after moving to America for the sake of giving him a better life, I saw echoes of my relationship with my parents. I’ve had similar discussions about race with my friends, as he does with his on the show. And watching him struggle with his identity on the show has made me more comfortable in mine.
Debates about diversity in Hollywood are usually reduced to black and white. But television has introduced shows about a range of people of color and various immigrant stories. Rather than casting a wide net, these shows are taking risks by including very specific, subtle cultural references. Maybe not every viewer picks up on an affectionate slang term spoken in Tamil between the Ansaris, but for those of us who do, it’s a delight.
If these story lines can work on broadcast and streaming services, there’s no reason they wouldn’t work on the big screen. As a teenager still forming parts of my identity, I find a lot of my role models in the media. And, as someone who had given up on seeing people who look like me on screen, when it happens, it’s exhilarating. I didn’t know what I was missing until I got a taste of it, and once I did, I wanted more.