A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Oscars so White and a Little More Black

“Oscars so white” became the outcry for a movement protesting the 2016 Oscars season. Of the twenty actors and actresses nominated for Best Actor or Best Actress, not a single contestant was black, let alone a minority. In a country which prides itself on democracy and acceptance, the media took notice, and a movement ensued. This year, as the new nominees are revealed, there are six minority actors and actresses altogether nominated for their respective categories. The Academy seems to have fulfilled its quota of minorities, but where are the others?

Coincidentally, Chris Rock had been the designated host of the Oscars last year and dedicated his opening monologue to calling out the Academy. As a black pioneer in comedy, Chris Rock became the single voice and figure against a Hollywood of white executives and actors. His streak ran until he ironically made an insensitive, racist joke perpetuating the Asian stereotype of being a nerd. Right after his empowering monologue, one would think he would be mindful enough to stay away from racist jokes, but instead he passes the burden of racism on to another race.

Something else seemed ajar to me when I watched the chaos distantly from my vantage point on social media. On one side, people of all races were advocating for a wider variety of actors to be nominated, but those same people seemed to be advocating for one race – as if black people encompassed all races included in the term “minority”. I am, by no means, saying that there was one movie in particular unrightfully dubbed of its nomination. The issue lies within a deep rooted stigma in Hollywood that Asian people do not act or are simply less marketable than their white and equally talented counterparts.

According to a study done by the University of Southern California, nearly three-fourths of the top 100 movies in 2014 featured a leading white actor, 12 percent featured African Americans, only 5 percent of movies featured Asians and another 5 percent featured Latinos. This raises some counterarguments like “why don’t more minorities become actors?” or “minorities just aren’t good actors”; which may be valid, if Asian actors were given a chance to defend those arguments in the first place. With movies such as Aloha, where they had the audacity to entirely whitewash the originally half-Hawaiian protagonist as the blonde Emma Stone, or Doctor Strange, where a Tibetan monk is miraculously also caucasian, this oppression of Asians is seen not only in movies, but also through the media, which perpetuates a stereotype and mindset that young Asians have no chance in even remotely achieving the caliber of acting as actors and actresses in the ranks of Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep.

I concur, the issue isn’t with the Academy. I would much rather see an Asian win an Oscar after my lifetime purely on the basis of their work, than see an Asian win an Oscar for publicity of the organization. But when Hollywood even remotely considers casting white people in Mulan, or goes so far as to making Matt Damon the hero in a movie about the Great Wall, there is an issue with not only Hollywood executives’, but also the media’s perceptions of an ideal protagonist.