An open letter to the Oscars: SAG Awards could teach you a thing about diversity

Dear Academy,

In case you weren’t already aware of this: We have a serious bone to pick with you.

There’s been a lot of rightful discussion recently about your failure to acknowledge a number of deserving artists in this year’s list of Oscar nominations — and the common denominator among those who were overlooked is that they are not white.

As it stands, John Legend is the only African-American to have received a nomination — in the Best Original Song category for the movie, Selma. And while Selma received a nomination for Best Picture, it didn’t fare so well in any of the acting categories or the directing category. How is it possible that a movie can be deemed Oscar-worthy, yet the person responsible for commanding the movie — the director, an African-American woman in this case, Ava DuVernay — and the people who performed in it are not deemed Oscar-worthy? This just doesn’t make any sense to us. It seems almost laughable that David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. in the movie — a man who fought tirelessly for equality and race recognition — wasn’t recognized for his performance.

More: 2 Reasons Selma’s Ava DuVernay may have been snubbed by The Academy

The only positive to take from this oversight is that we’re not the only people who are perplexed by this unfortunate and concerning snubbery. The complete lack of diversity among those in the running for an award on show business’ night of nights sparked the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, to trend on Twitter.

While people globally were expressing their dismay at the glaring oversights, the Academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African-American woman, stood in contrast to these opinions, saying, “the good news is that the wealth of talent is there, and it’s being discussed, and it’s helpful so much for talent — whether in front of the camera or behind the camera — to have this recognition, to have this period of time where there is a lot of publicity, a lot of chitter-chatter.”

What recognition is she referring to? Because the Academy certainly didn’t see fit to provide the “wealth of talent” with any such recognition this year.

You know who did? The SAG Awards. This year, Uzo Aduba and Viola Davis made SAG Awards history in that both lead actress categories were won by African-American actresses. Davis spoke to race in her acceptance speech, noting that the ability of someone like her — a 49-year-old dark-skinned African-American woman — to be a part of the stories we see on television “starts from the top up.”

While you, the Academy, might like to see yourselves as “the top,” it’s clear you have such a long way to go. At this point in time, SAG has you well and truly beaten. While SAG is making history for the right reasons, the Academy is shaping news headlines for the wrong ones. The SAG Awards, voted on solely by actors, has shown us where those who bring film and television to life place value. Why has the Academy not done the same with its Oscar nominations this year?

Our message to you, the Academy, is this: Not only can you do better, but you have to do better. A lot more than a statuette is at stake here. The entertainment industry should strive to be a diverse industry, intent on representing all kinds of people — male, female, LGBT, Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, Asian and a whole gamut of other races we are yet to see effectively represented on the big and small screens — not only because of the obvious financial incentives that come with giving viewers the opportunity to watch things that reflect who they know themselves to be. But the entertainment industry should see this representation of people of all walks of life as its responsibility.

What we see in the movies and the television shows we watch has the power to shape and change perceptions, perceptions that are often incorrect and misunderstood. The entertainment industry has a pivotal role to play in closing the gap that currently exists in relation to issues of race, gender and sexuality, among others.

More: Oscar nominations: 7 Women the Academy failed to acknowledge

The Academy should be at the forefront of this mission, not lagging far behind it. If the Oscars are truly going to own the title of Hollywood’s most coveted and prestigious award, then you have an obligation to set yourselves apart from the rest by encouraging, promoting and rewarding diversity, rather than failing to acknowledge it at all. We hope you’ll get it right when it’s time for 2016’s Oscar nominations.

More reading for you

2015 SAG Awards: OITNB proved women are taking over Hollywood
#AskHerMore: 12 Times we were frustrated with the SAG red carpet questions
How Viola Davis, in under two minutes, moved SAG viewers to tears (VIDEO)


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