When the Academy released its list of nominees for the 2015 Oscars on January 15, the resulting Twitter outrage went far beyond the lack of nominations for Jake Gyllenhaal or "The Lego Movie." Instead, mere hours after Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, and Alfonso Cuarón announced the nominees, the top Twitter trend in America became #OscarsSoWhite -- because, aside from a nomination for Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu for "Birdman" and a solitary Best Picture nod for "Selma," people of color were entirely absent from acting and directing nominations. And women, outside of acting, weren't recognized at all.
Of course, lack of diversity in nominations has long been the status quo -- white men have dominated Hollywood since its inception, after all -- but the whitewashed nominations are even more glaring when you see that David Oyelowo's acting for "Selma," and Ava DuVernay's directing, were left out. And people are taking notice.
"It’s disconcerting that every single year, we can count the people of color who are nominated on one hand," April Reign, the attorney and blogger at ReignOfApril.com who started the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, told MTV News over the phone. "That really needs to change. It’s not because there’s a lack of quality films that star or feature people of color; that’s not the issue. There was an article in The Atlantic recently which indicated who the Oscar voters are. They are 94 percent white, 76 percent male, and the average age is 63 years old ... and they might not be as interested in seeing 'Selma.'"
Even if they did see "Selma" -- which was difficult for many, given its limited release -- its negative depiction of Lyndon B. Johnson, which resulted in what Reign refers to as blacklisting and controversy in the voting world, might have put pressure on voters to leave "Selma" out. Which is a shame for DuVernay, Oyelowo, and more, because Oscar recognition, at the end of the day, really matters.
"It’s true in any profession -- you want to be recognized for your work," Reign explained. "The Oscars are no different than working in a corporation, or working in a fast food restaurant. You do a good job with the fries, then you’re going to want your boss to come out and say, ‘Good job, here’s an extra little bonus in your paycheck.’... Oscars mean more money. You become an Oscar-nominated actor, actress, director, or what have you, and then it’s easier for you to get your next job. It’s easier for you to command a higher paycheck for your next film. It’s easier for your film to get green-lit when you have 'Oscar Winner' behind your name. Those are just the facts."
Not only does snubbing people of color (and women) from the Oscars deny them that crucial recognition, it makes it even more difficult for them to land future roles and projects in an industry that already ignores them -- and before you try to say that it doesn't, try to recall a big Oscar film about black lives in recent years that wasn't called "The Help" or "12 Years a Slave."
As Reign pointed out, even prominent black filmmakers like Tyler Perry have had to start their own production companies to get their films made, and Spike Lee's newest movie, "Da Blood of Jesus," was funded on Kickstarter. That it can be so tough to get non-white movies made is another reason why "Selma" -- which rode frontrunner buzz for months -- hurt so bad. Because something they made finally broke through, only to be snubbed and snubbed again.
"How is it that you can nominate a film for Best Picture, but then not nominate it for anything in any of the other categories?" Reign asked. "How is it a Best Picture if the screenplay isn’t nomination-worthy, or the actors, the actresses, the director, the cinematography? If nothing else is Oscar-worthy, then what makes it a best film? I’m happy for the nomination, but part of me says, ‘Maybe they just threw us a bone.’ Because now we’ve got 10 [possible Best Picture slots], as opposed to for years we only had five nominations. Now we’ve got 10, so let’s just give it this Best Picture nod, but not recognize any of the individual achievements within the film."
Unfortunately, with "Selma" being snubbed in every other major category besides Best Picture, its odds of winning are slim -- as Reign pointed out, the last film that won the top prize without nominations in directing or acting categories was "Grand Hotel," and that was in 1932. So don't look for many black faces at the Oscars this year, and per Reign, don't look for them on Twitter, either.
"I’ve watched [The Oscars] every year for over 20 years, but I just have no interest," Reign concluded. "I think what we’re going to do on Twitter, is live-tweet black art excellence. We may have a live-tweeting of 'The Color Purple,' or 'Do the Right Thing.' Instead of giving our hashtags to Oscar this year, we’ll be giving our hashtags to black art excellence."