Whitewashing in Award Shows

For the UAS Whalesong

Awards shows are great. You get to see your favorite actors or artists win for their hard work. However, I would like to assert that we never really think about the other side of that. With award show season in mind, it’s important to think about the system which gives awards in the first place.

It should be of no surprise that in the last few years’ attention is being brought to the issue of whitewashing in award shows. While people are often using humor to bring it to the public eye, it’s more important to address than the jokes may let on. When 94% of the academy are white, 2% are black and Latino, and 1% Native American, there’s a really big issue not being acknowledged. The thing is though, it is being discussed. Predominantly, by the public.

If you’re on Twitter, you may have seen the #oscarssowhite when the nominations were       announced, many people outraged that many actors and actresses of color were being ignored by the selling point of white actors. We see the same six white male actors nominated every year, and, not to say that they don’t have talent or merit, but we’re ignoring actors who have done just as well, if not better. It’s not that the white actors don’t deserve it, it’s the problem that there’s no equal opportunity, which is sometimes just what they want: the opportunity to even be included.

The continuing outrage is helping bring real attention to the issue, especially in terms of the Saturn Awards recent nominations. The backlash started when the nominations were first revealed, showing Harrison Ford for Best Actor in the newest Star Wars and then John Boyega for Best Supporting Actor, when these in fact should have been switched. This is extremely problematic, seeing as John Boyega as Finn was the lead male in the film, and the committee ignoring that shows the inherent problem with our media. The Saturn Awards quickly changed their nominations after this, clearly understanding what they did wrong and apologizing. This simply goes to show that, with the right amount of vocal reaction, the public is beginning to change how the award shows work.

We laugh at Kanye West interrupting music awards, but in reality he may be showing a deeper problem with award show voters than he may be letting on. People of color artists can sell millions of more records and yet continue to lose to white artists. Beyoncé can have a number one selling record for months on end, but still lose to Beck. So, while we think it’s rude and funny at the same time, we have to disassociate from that and recognize that there’s a bigger issue here. That there’s a reason he’s doing it and that it may be for something other than attention. We’re ignoring the merit of artists; the exact complaint people use for whitewashing award shows.

There is the issue, though, of even more backlash against those fighting for the equal opportunity in the first place. The debate gets worse because some people, often not inherently against the equality, feel that these films are just getting the award because people complained enough. It doesn’t feel genuine, they say. The fact remains that this may be one of the only ways to celebrate the community’s talent. Such backlash ignores the merit of the media: that the complaints against award shows earned the media attention.

Award Shows are a major part of media today. However, this doesn’t always mean that it’s fair or equal. We have an institutionalized situation in the award committees where whitewashing has become a huge problem. People have begun voicing their complaints, making it clearer every day that they’re no longer going to stand for it, especially when films that did just as well as a Blockbuster hit are being ignored. What we need is just an equal opportunity and to have the nomination there. The problem remains, is that white people are cutting people of color out of the running from things they’re not even starring in.

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