Where Do Asians Stand in Oscar Nominations?

Where Do Asians Stand in Oscar Nominations?
Photo Credit: 路透 / 達志影像

What you need to know

White actors have been dominating the Academy Awards for 88 years. This reflects not only the social stereotype embedded in the movie industry, but also the lack of opportunities for actors of color to ascend to the podium of the Oscars.

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Compiled by Vic Chiang and Eric Tsai

Recently the Academy announced the nominees for the 88th Oscars, which included no actors or actresses of color. Criticism broke out on social media with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, calling it the whitest Oscar nominations lineup.

This is the second consecutive year that all twenty nominees for best leading and supporting actors are white, which sum up to 40 nominees in two years.

The list has infuriated prominent black figures in the entertainment industry, including director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who announced on MLK Day that they would not attend the ceremony.

Smith said, “Is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence, that we have amassed, that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere?”

Her husband Will Smith will also be joining her boycott and will not attend the Oscars.

In response to this incident, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs states, “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.” She also promises a change would be made to recruit more members for bringing more diversity into the Academy.

Debates have also emerged regarding this issue that has gone viral. While some people openly support the celebrities’ boycott against the Oscars ceremony, others argue that these celebrities are playing the “race” card again, suggesting that failing to make the nomination list simply means that you did not perform well enough this year.

Black actors are not the only community that suffers from the Academy’s “lack of inclusion.” When Lee was nominated for best director in 2013, he said in an interview that the Academy had long been ignoring Asian actors. In the 88 years of the Oscars, the only two Asians to have won a golden man for their acting performance is Haing S. Ngor in 1985 and Miyoshi Umeki in 1957 for best supporting actor and actress respectively. Rinko Kikuchi was nominated for best supporting actress in the 79th Oscars, but the award went to Jennifer Hudson for her role in “Dreamgirls."

In recent years, the Asian presence in the entertainment industry is becoming more prominent with shows like “Fresh off the Boat” and “Master of None.” On the small screen achievement, “Master of None” won the best comedy series at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Award. Going on stage to accept the award, co-creator Alan Yang joked, “Thank you to all the straight white guys who dominated movies and TV so hard, and for so long, that stories about anyone else seem kind of fresh and original. Because you guys crushed it for so long, anything else seems kind of different."

It is obvious that the real problem for the black actors and other marginalized communities is not the lack of talent, but the lack of opportunities.

“When we take this problem in the round, this lack of opportunity leads to me being asked the same question again and again…’should I go to America to become a successful actor?’” said actor Idris Elba in a speech to the UK Parliament on diversity.

“The reason I went to America, is because the USA has the most famous diversity policy of all: It’s called the American Dream.” But it seems with the #OscarsSoWhite issue, that American dream seems to be dwindling. (Elba was not nominated for his performance in “Beasts of No Nation”)

Oscar nominations are decided by the Academy, a group of individuals working in film that are selected via sponsorship of an existing member.

According to Los Angeles Times, Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, with blacks account for only 2% of the academy, and Latinos less than 2%. Likely due to a lifetime membership, it is to be noted that the median age of the academy is 62. Many of these members have not worked in the film industry for many decades.

On January 22, the Academy announced that through a unanimous vote, they would be changing membership requirements to help increase diversity. Memberships will no longer be lifetime by default, but rather through activeness within the field. Though met with a range of reactions from joy to anger, this policy aims to double the number of women and diverse members by 2020.

Edited by Olivia Yang