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Oscar nominations: Lack of diversity in acting categories echoes last year's controversy

Last year, controversy arose when the nominees for every Oscars acting category were white. The same thing has happened again this year.

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    Idris Elba was one of the actors who was nominated for another set of awards prior to the Oscars this awards season but missed out on a nod from the Academy.
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The Oscars acting nominations this year echo the lack of diversity seen in the nominees for the Academy Awards in the 2015 ceremony. 

All the acting nominees for this year’s awards are white. The contenders include “Room” actress Brie Larson, Leonardo DiCaprio of “The Revenant,” and Sylvester Stallone of “Creed.” 

Last year, every acting contender was white, the same as this year, and no women were nominated in the best directing or best screenplay categories. This year, the lack of women remains the same for the directing category, though writer Phyllis Nagy was nominated for her work adapting the screenplay for the movie “Carol” and Emma Donoghue adapted her own novel for the film “Room,” for which she received a nod, while Meg LeFauve is nominated for her work on the screenplay for “Inside Out” and Andrea Berloff was nominated for her work on the screenplay for “Straight Outta Compton.”

Some actors that were nominated for Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Award prizes – often thought of as early signs of what might make the cut for the Oscars – but who failed to receive Oscars nods are Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation” and Will Smith for “Concussion.” 

Last year, Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in an interview with the Associated Press that those behind the Oscars are “committed to seeking out diversity of voice and opinion.” 

“It matters that we pay attention to, again, the diversity of voice and opinion and experience, and that it doesn't slide, it doesn't slide anywhere except for forward," she said. "And maybe this year [in 2015] is more just about let's kick it in even more.” 

The last acting category that had not been won by a person of color reached that milestone in 2002, when Halle Berry won the prize for her work in the film “Monster’s Ball.” 

The announcement of the nominees comes after a year in which actress Viola Davis became the first actress of color to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. Davis addressed diversity in the entertainment business during her Emmys acceptance speech. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said at the time. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” 

While there is always further to go in matters such as these, a GLAAD report released at the end of 2015 showed that there had been an increase in diversity on broadcast TV during both the 2015-2016 TV seasons and the 2014-2015 TV seasons. GLAAD noted that the number of series regular characters who are black on broadcast TV is the highest it’s been since GLAAD began measuring such data.

“It seems that networks are finally making serious strides towards more diverse representations,” GLAAD said at the time

GLAAD pointed to NBC as leading in this achievement, with new shows like “Superstore,” “Telenovela,” and “Shades of Blue” aiding NBC in reaching number one.

In an interview with the Monitor, associate professor of film and media arts at California’s Chapman University Ross Brown noted the success of Fox’s “Empire.”

If a diverse show achieves success, Brown says, other networks’ reactions will be, “Get me the next one.”

As for the Oscars nominees, we will no doubt continue to see the effect the lack of diversity among the acting nominees will have in terms of the perception of the Academy. A member of the acting branch of the academy told the Los Angeles Times anonymously, “I don't see how you can nominate another group that doesn't include any actor of color and think you'll be taken seriously.” 

What can be done to combat this problem? Professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts Todd Boyd echoed Davis’s comments.

“There can't be many nominees until people are given the opportunity in prominent, meaningful roles," Boyd said. "The Oscars are the end of the line. When those opportunities come at the front end, then the nominations will probably flow accordingly. And if they don't, then you'll really have a pushback.”

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