Editor-in-Chief and A&E Editor
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has attempted to face the lack of diversity in Hollywood by awarding African-American director Spike Lee with an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards this past Saturday. Lee, the writer and director of such classic movies as Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Crooklyn, has been the premier black director in the industry for almost thirty years and has commented before on the underrepresentation of African-Americans in movies. Last year, The Academy nominated no black directors or actors for Academy Awards. Lee used his acceptance speech to point out Hollywood’s race problem, saying that, “It’s easier to be president of the United States as a black person than be head of a studio.”
This is not the first time that The Academy has faced criticism about racial variety. In the eighty-seven years since the first Academy Awards ceremony, only thirty-two African Americans have claimed the trophy out of almost three-thousand winners overall. 12 Years a Slave may have taken home the statue during the 2013 ceremony, but the snubs of Selma director Ama DuVernay and star David Oyelowo last year caused great controversy, with many people voicing their criticism on social media. Even some major celebrities, such as Al Sharpton, were offended. Other famous black entertainers, including Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy, have spoken up about the white-bias of Hollywood. Spike Lee’s appearance at the Governors Awards was just the latest event highlighting the problem.
For every film that provides meaty roles for African-Americans, there are several that portray black characters stereotypically or ignore them completely. Stars like Will Smith and Denzel Washington are the exceptions in a predominately white industry. Leading roles almost never go to non-white actors, and features with more than a few African-American characters are deemed “black movies.” Spike Lee’s honorary Oscar is a small step forward, but there is still a major discrepancy that needs to be addressed.