What’s on Wayne: Has Oscars’ diversity row been blown out of proportion?

David Oyelowo plays Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, the source of controversy surrounding this ye

David Oyelowo plays Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Selma, the source of controversy surrounding this year's Oscars. - Credit: AP

Maybe it’s bold, maybe it’s naïve but I wonder if the outrage surrounding the lack of diversity among this year’s Oscar nominees has been blown out of proportion.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay who, along with actor David Oyelowo, has been overlooked at this year's Oscar

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay who, along with actor David Oyelowo, has been overlooked at this year's Oscars. - Credit: PA

The media, egged on by that young upstart Twitter, has seized on the fact that for the first time in nearly 20 years every one of the acting nominees are white; let me say that again – for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The Oscars do have these weird hiccoughs from time to time.

It’s worth noting women were overlooked too, with more males nominated in general than previous years. I even read discussion threads questioning whether able-bodied actors should play disabled people.

Anybody who saw Graeae Theatre Company’s production of Threepenny Opera at the New Wolsey will have something to say about the latter.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has spoke out abo

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has spoke out about Selma. - Credit: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP


You may also want to watch:


Dominating headlines though is the film Selma which charts Martin Luther King Jr’s bid to earn equal voting rights by marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.

David Oyelowo, playing King, and director Ava DuVernay – who would’ve become the first black woman nominated in the best director category – didn’t make the cut, giving rise to the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

Most Read

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, responded, saying the organisation has been making great strides to become more diverse and inclusive via new members and classes.

She also pointed out there isn’t one central body or group of people who sit around a table picking nominees. Your peers in the film community decide.

“What is important not to lose sight of is that Selma, which is a fantastic motion picture, was nominated for best picture this year, and the best picture category is voted on by the entire membership of around 7,000 people,” Boone Isaacs added when speaking to the Associated Press.

It was also nominated for best song for Glory.

Yes, the Academy’s membership is largely white, male and, well, old; prompting suggestions of ballot bigotry.

That didn’t stop 12 Years A Slave winning best motion picture, best supporting actress, best adapted screenplay and earning nominations in six more categories last Oscar night.

Historically, 20 black actors have been nominated for best actor including wins for Sidney Poitier, nominated for The Defiant Ones in 1958 and finally winning for Lillies of the Field in 1963; Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker. Ten black women have been nominated for best actress, with Halle Berry winning.

Seventeen black actors have been nominated for best supporting actor with Louis Gossett Jr, Washington, Morgan Freeman and Cuba Gooding Jr taking home a statuette.

Nineteen black women have been nominated for best supporting actress with Hattie McDaniel winning best supporting actress as far back as 1939 for Gone With The Wind and further wins for Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o.

Statisticians out there make of that what you will.

Personally, I think 2014/15 was a great year full of great performances. At the end of the day this is a competition and somebody’s got to lose.

Some say the film has found itself an unwitting participant in a socio-political tug of war. More cynical observers; myself included, wonder if the continued controversy is the studio seizing the chance to keep its film on people’s lips.

As long as it sparks genuine debate about real issues does it really matter? After all, that’s what movies are meant to do. Selma’s real victory could be helping change Hollywood’s arguably still antiquated hiring policies - far more long-lasting than a statuette.

Lorraine Toussaint, who plays Amelia Boynton in the film, told E! News everybody involved with the film were glad they were in the room because that’s how change happens - although it’s slower than they’d like.

Interviewed by the channel at the Critics’ Choice Awards, she had the following message for Hollywood: “Come on already! We are America. This is Hollywood. We really are the leaders of this medium and this medium is powerful.

“It could change minds and it can change hearts. You must be more responsible with the films that you make and the faces you put out there. All white films no longer reflect the face of this world. Let’s get on with it, shall we?”

Carmen Ejogo, who plays Coretta Scott King, added there has to be more diversity going forward, saying: “I think it keeps the Academy relevant if they keep up to speed in that way.”

What do you think? Tweet @WhatsonWayne using #OscarsDiversityRow

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter