It’s the conversation that’s been long overdue, the real conversation about diversity, or the lack thereof, in Hollywood. For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate any actors of color in 20 of the actors categories prompting the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite again this year. But as EBONY editor-in-chief Kierna Mayo said on CNN this week, the hashtag should read #OscarsBEENSoWhite—because unfortunately, the Academy has developed a track record for snubbing (or totally overlooking) exceptional contributions from actors and directors who don’t check the “Caucasian” box.
Just this year, films like Creed and Straight Outta Compton, actors like Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan and Idris Elba, were simply overlooked when the nominations were rolled out. Not to mention Creed director Ryan Coogler.
Now prominent actors are speaking out against the Oscars’ lack of diversity with bold statements kickstarted by Jada Pinkett Smith, who released a video explaining why she won’t support the ceremony by refusing to attend. Since then, Spike Lee, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, George Clooney, Will Smith and Mark Ruffalo are just some of the A-listers who’ve spoken out about it. Robert L. Johnson, the founder of BET, offered a list of suggestions on how to fix the problem moving forward with ideas including “encouraging the studios to hire more people of color in their creative and development departments with authority to greenlight films, similar to what is occurring in television, as noted by the number of Emmy nominations for minorities.”
Even Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the (African-American) president Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, released a statement acknowledging that a problem exists, and promising an overhaul of old practices. A portion of her statement reads: “I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes.”
Nevertheless, it’s going to be hard to forget the feelings a snub or missed opportunity to celebrate great work can bring. In that spirit, here’s a list of 10 snubs of Black cinema from the Academy Awards.
1. John Singleton became the first African American and youngest person to ever be nominated for an Oscar for his directorial debut of Boyz n the Hood. Sadly, he lost in his category, and the film itself—now widely regarded as a classic—was overlooked as a nominee for Best Picture.
2. Some have called Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Malcolm X in the film of the same name some of his best work. While he was nominated for an Oscar, he did not win. Washington lost to Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman), a decision which Malcolm X director Spike Lee criticized, saying, “I’m not the only one who thinks Denzel was robbed on that one.” And the film Malcolm X didn’t even garner a nomination.
3. Spike Lee had already solidified himself as one of the most important Black directors of this time. When Malcolm X was released, he was a shoe-in for a Best Director nod for the 1993 Academy Awards, but he didn’t win that year. In fact, he wasn’t even nominated.
4. Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is one of the filmmaker’s most prolific pieces of work. In 1999, the U.S. Library of Congress deemed it “culturally significant,” selecting it for preservation in the National Film Registry. Yet in 1990, the Oscars failed to see the significance in nominating Lee for Best Director or giving the film—quite possibly Lee’s best—a Best Picture nod.
5. The 2014 film Selma was critically acclaimed, and even garnered Oscar nods for Best Picture and Best Song, yet left director Ava DuVernay (who would have been the first African-American woman to land a nomination in that category) nomination-less. David Oyelowo, the film’s lead, failed to score a nomination either. Scandal’s Joshua Malina said it best via a tweet: “Selma was an excellent movie that acted and directed itself beautifully.”
6. In 2007, Dreamgirls made history. It was the first film to receive the highest number of Academy Award nominations for the year, yet not be nominated for Best Picture. Dreamgirl’s failure to grab a Best Picture or Best Director nod was widely viewed as a snub. Eddie Murphy—who managed to garner a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor nod for his role in the film—seemed a shoe-in for the win. But his dreams didn’t come true that night.
7. The 2013 film The Butler is the kind of film the Oscars droll over. It starred a previous Oscar winner (Forest Whitaker). It told an incredible true story. The pedigree of actors filling all the roles from Oprah Winfrey on down to Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Oyelowo was like nothing else—and yet the film failed to garner a single Academy Award nomination.
8. A quick read through Angela Bassett’s list of awards and nominations is daunting. She’s quite deservingly racked up dozens of nods and trophies through the years. But if ever she deserved an Oscar, it was for her performance as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It? And yet she lost the one and only time the Oscars decided to nominate her.
9. Dorothy Dandridge will always be synonymous with Carmen Jones—a legendary actress in a legendary, classic film. In 1954, she was the first African-American actress to be nominated for an Oscar in a leading role. But she wasn’t given the win, and it would be another 47 years before Halle Berry finally clinched an award in that category.
10. In 1994, The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including one for Best Supporting Actor for the superb work by Morgan Freeman. The film lost in every category, and Freeman walked away empty handed. In fact, out of the five times Freeman’s been nominated for an Oscar, he’s surprisingly only won once: for Best Supporting Actor in Million Dollar Baby.
—Crystal Shaw King