There was widespread surprise that the lack of diversity persisted despite the backlash a year ago when — like this year — all acting nominees were white and there was only one director of color, eventual winner Alejandro Iñárritu.
A year after host Neil Patrick Harris quipped that the Oscars were honoring Hollywood’s “best and whitest,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled another all-white slate of acting nominees Thursday, prompting a dismayed revival of the “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag.
Many also expressed regret that the highly admired and well-reviewed box-office hit, “Straight Outta Compton,” failed to score a best picture nod, despite being recognized in other contests. In acting categories, omissions included Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” and Will Smith in “Concussion.”
“I really was disappointed,” said the academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs when asked about “Compton,” which did receive a screenplay nomination (for, some noted on Twitter, its white screenwriters, not its black cast or director). “Fabulous movie, fabulous movie.”
But Isaacs, who is black, added that the Oscar nominations are part of a much broader conversation in the entertainment industry about diversity — and that change would happen, slowly. “What is important is that this entire conversation of diversity is here and we are talking about it,” Isaacs said. “And I think we will not just talk, because people will say, ‘Well don’t just talk, you gotta do,’ (but) talking gets to the doing, and we are going to do.”
There was widespread surprise that the lack of diversity persisted despite the backlash a year ago when — like this year — all acting nominees were white and there was only one director of color, eventual winner Alejandro Iñárritu. The most notable omissions last year involved the lauded civil-rights drama “Selma”; both its director, Ava DuVernay, and its star, David Oyelowo, were passed over.
This year, in all the lead categories — best director, picture, and all four acting categories — only Iñárritu, the Mexican auteur who won best director and picture last year, for “Birdman,” added a note of diversity. This year he was nominated for “The Revenant.”
“It’s business as usual at the academy,” Gil Robertson, president of the African-American Film Critics Association, said Thursday. “We’ll have to try again. After the whole debacle with ‘Selma’ and Ava DuVernay, you would have thought some lessons would have been learned. Nothing for Will Smith. Nothing for Idris Elba. Irony of ironies, the only actor who received a nomination for ‘Creed’ is white.” (He was referring to Sylvester Stallone, who got a supporting actor nod for reprising his role as Rocky Balboa. Co-star Michael B. Jordan was not nominated, nor was director Ryan Coogler.)
Film producer and director Reginald Hudlin, a co-producer of this year’s Oscar telecast, called the situation “frustrating.”
“Maybe if there’s 50 great films by black filmmakers, they will get three nominations,” said Hudlin, who produced “Django Unchained.”
“And again, that’s not putting down the movies that are nominated, they’re wonderful,” Hudlin said. “It’s just a frustrating thing that the voting doesn’t reflect what America is saying very loud and clear, what the world is saying very loud and clear.”
“The Revenant” fared best with the academy, earning 12 nominations, including best picture, while “Mad Max: Fury Road” landed 10. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” picked up five nominations in craft categories but not for best picture.
A big surprise was the success of “Room,” starring Brie Larson as a mother held captive with her young son. The narrative throughout this awards season has been that despite the film’s success at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, people found it too difficult to watch and stayed away from screenings. Yet the film and its Irish director, Lenny Abrahamson, received nominations. “Brooklyn,” starring Saoirse Ronan — a best actress nominee — also earned a best picture spot.
Adam McKay, director of the “Anchorman” films, drew a directing nomination for “The Big Short” (another best picture nominee), proving that white male Hollywood successes can work their way out of the comedy hinterlands.
“Carol,” the Todd Haynes-directed drama about lesbian romance in the 1950s, did not get an expected best-picture slot and Quentin Tarantino did not get a nomination for his screenplay for “The Hateful Eight.”
Director Ridley Scott, who won a Golden Globe on Sunday for “The Martian,” also won no love, or nomination, from the academy for directing that film which did, however, get a best-picture slot.
Many tweeted their disapproval about the nominations’ lack of diversity Thursday.
“I love @TheSlyStallone,” wrote indie director Joe Carnahan, “but Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson & Ryan Coogler don’t get noms for CREED!? Come on Academy.”
“Zero nonwhite actors have been nominated for Oscars,” tweeted the Tribeca Film Festival. “There’s no excuse.”
“Compton” did receive a screenwriting nod, and one of its writers said she sees hope for change on the diversity issue in Hollywood. “I was actually at a town-hall meeting on diversity last night, and I think it’s an exciting time to be having this conversation in Hollywood,” said writer Andrea Berloff. “It is not being ignored, and there’s a lot of us working at a more grass-roots level to try to turn the tides.”
Berloff added that there was a key positive note for women in the nominations list: four women were nominated for their screenplays this year.
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“That’s a huge success,” Berloff said, “and I hope we can really take the time to celebrate. It’s a huge victory.”
The academy, which awards the Oscars and has long been a bastion of older white men, has been trying to diversify its ranks as Hollywood faces increasing criticism about its hiring practices, which in turn affects the stories it tells.
In November, accepting an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards, Spike Lee excoriated the industry, saying, in his acceptance speech, that it was “easier to be president of the United States as a black man than be the head of a studio.”
Lee said: “By the year 2043, white Americans are going to be a minority in this country. And all you people out there in the position of hiring, you better get smart. Because your workforce should reflect what this country looks like.”
“Everybody in here probably voted for Obama,” he added, “but when I go to offices, I see no black folks except for the brother man at security.”