Oscars must be about giving due recognition wherever it is deserved

Those behind films and TV shows have a responsibility to depict life as it really is, and to give audiences a realistic representation of society

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 1:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 January, 2016, 1:19am

Movies and television shows have a bigger impact on our lives than we think. Decades of studies show they subconsciously influence our attitudes, the way we see the world and our perceptions of good and bad. A threat by black entertainers to boycott next month’s US Academy Awards ceremony over a lack of ethnic diversity is therefore a serious matter. It is about due recognition and fair treatment, but also about ensuring that audiences get a realistic representation of society.

For a second year in a row, all 20 best acting nominations by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are white, despite there being strong minority contenders. The choices for the awards known as the Oscar have prompted vigorous debate among black directors and actors and a campaign to stay away from the ceremony on February 28 by director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith is gathering steam. In London, actor Idris Elba has added to the controversy by complaining to British lawmakers about the lack of ethnic diversity in television shows.

Winning an Oscar boosts an actor’s stardom and adds to a film’s box office success. To prevent voting influence, the academy’s membership is a closely guarded secret. Studies contend that its composition is about 94 per cent Caucasian, a figure mirroring the ethnicity of Hollywood’s directors, studio bosses and film investors. Paradoxically, the academy presently has its first black president, Cheryl Boon Isaacs; she has said she is “both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion” in this year’s nominations.

A new generation of movie aspirants from across the ethnic spectrum, using the internet to show their efforts, may one day correct the imbalance. But for now, there is no bigger accolade in the global film industry than an Oscar. Those behind films and TV shows have a responsibility to depict life as it really is. Heroes do not have to be only white, nor should Asians, Hispanics and blacks be confined to bit parts and the roles of bad guys.