The Bar-On Brief: Hollywood frames the Oscars

The Academy is not racist, its Hollywood that needs reform

The Bar-On Brief: a weekly column
The Bar-On Brief: a weekly column

Chris Rock, the host of the 88th Academy Awards Ceremony (the Oscars), was hilarious as always.

His opening monologue was controversial, though: he made fun of #OscarSoWhite, called Hollywood racist, implied it was foolish to boycott the Oscars and even made references to the mid-1900s lynchings of African-Americans.

Although a stand-up comedy act, Rock’s performance did have an interesting suggestion: “If you want to have black nominees,” he said, “you need to have black categories.”

He compared his suggestion with the gender-specific awards at the Oscars.

“There’s no real reason for there to be a man and a woman category for acting,” Rock said.

The first Academy Awards in 1928 was comprised of 15 awards. The only category split up by gender was “best actor/actress in a leading role.” In 1936, the second gender-based award was added: “best actor/actress in a supporting role.” These are the only two awards of this nature.

Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

Why does the Academy hand out acting awards by gender? The award for best director, after all, is not split.

Is the Academy suggesting men and women’s acting talents should be judged separately? I would hope not.

If best costume design, something clearly pertaining to gender, can be evaluated independently of gender, then surely acting can be. If singing and dancing competitions judge men and women’s voices and body movements with the same criteria, then there should be no doubt that men and women can be judged together for acting performances.

So, why aren’t they? Hollywood is allegedly racist, but if you look at the facts, Hollywood is more sexist than racist. The Oscars just cover up Hollywood’s sexism really well.

Movie news website Indiewire reports the highest percentage of female nominees at an Academy Awards Ceremony was 24 percent in 1994. Since 1928, there have only been six females nominated for best visual effect designers, and there has never been a female director of a “best cinematography” nomination.

According to the New York Film Academy Blog, less than 31 percent of actresses had a speaking role in movies between 2007 and 2012. Almost 29 percent of women who appear in movies wear “sexually revealing clothes” and over 26 percent of women actresses “get partially naked” in movie scenes.

Hollywood just wants to satisfy the consumer market, dominated by heterosexual men, right? Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The movie ticket purchasing data between 2007 and 2012 indicated an equal number of men and women ticket buyers, the New York Film Academy Blog reports.meta-chart

The Washington Post additionally reports the astonishing lack of female representation in top movie-producing positions.

The lack of female representation in Hollywood qualifies them as minorities in this field. Their situation is similar to that of African-American actors and actresses. According to PBS, over 73 percent of actors in 2014 movies were white. Compare this with the 12.5 percent of African-American actors, and you find a clear lack of racial diversity.

Call it racism if you insist, but the percentage of African-American actors is consistent with their proportion in the United States population. The lack of lead actresses, however, is not consistent with population statistics, which show an equal number of males and females.

Due to the overwhelming majority of white actors and actresses, it makes sense that there are more white nominees.

But unlike the African-American situation, an equal number of males and females are nominated despite the unequal distribution of actors and actresses. This is due to the affirmative action-like policy currently in place.meta-chart (1)

So, is Hollywood sexist? Probably, because there is an equal number of males and females in the United States yet so few females in a leading role. But this sexism is not evident in the Oscars because the Academy reserves half of the acting awards for women.

Is Hollywood racist? Maybe. But their movies are just as diverse as the United States population.

This alleged racism gets more media attention, however, because it is evident in the Academy Awards. There are no acting awards reserved specifically for African-Americans (or other minority groups such as Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, etc).

It’s not the Academy that is racist or sexist. If anything, it’s Hollywood. The Academy decides on nominations based on the present group of actors, which, thanks to the Hollywood industry, happens to consist of mostly white males.

The Academy just chooses to evaluate women separately from men due to their minority status in the industry. If the Academy did the same with African-Americans and other minorities, it would guarantee their representation in the Academy Awards.

The academy should not reserve awards for women without do so for other minority acting groups. They should either implement this system for all other minorities or not implement it at all.

But we know such a system is virtually impossible because there are countless minority groups in Hollywood (African-Americans and women included). The Academy could not possibly reserve spots for all these groups without having hundreds of awards.

If we want acting awards to be given to a diverse group, with talent being the only standard in question, the Hollywood industry needs to change, not the Academy Awards.

The movie business should work to create a more diverse acting field — with more lead roles for women, African-Americans and other groups — rather than force the Academy to be bombarded with accusations in its place.

And with that, I rest my case.