Will This Year’s Academy Awards See a Repeat of #OscarsSoWhite Backlash?

Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2016

As Motion Picture Academy members cast their ballots for Oscar nominations this week, the biggest issue for many voters isn’t about who might be nominated but about the diversity of this year’s acting class.

Their fear: The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite will be trending on social media again.

The academy found itself on the defensive last year when white actors earned all 20 of the nominations in the lead and supporting categories. The topic came to define the Academy Awards so much that host Neil Patrick Harris opened the ceremony by quipping: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.”

Yet there’s a strong chance this year’s acting awards will once again be heavily, perhaps exclusively, white, despite the efforts of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to diversify the organization.

In the four acting categories, only Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) sits among the forecasted nominees at Gold Derby, a website compiling the predictions of two dozen Oscar pundits.

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“If it’s all-white again, nobody’s going to be happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” said USC history professor Steve Ross, author of several books about Hollywood politics. “It has to be a good performance, but, for some, if they’re deciding between Will Smith and somebody else, they might just go for Will Smith because of what happened last year.”

Some academy members worry privately that another backlash could damage the institution’s reputation, particularly as award shows such as the Emmys and Grammys feature prominent winners of color.

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The academy responded to the #OscarsSoWhite criticism in June, inviting 322 new members, its largest class ever. The demographically broad group reflected a concerted move toward “a normalization of our membership to represent both the industry and the country as a whole,” academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs told The Times in an interview at the time.

Then, at the Governors Awards in November, Boone Issacs announced a new academy initiative, A2020, designed to promote inclusion within its own staff as well as advocate for an “industry-wide commitment” to partner with the academy to “hire, mentor, encourage and promote talent in all areas of our profession.”

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