For a second year in a row, the nominees for the 2016 Academy Awards were largely a pool of straight, white people. Most notably, not a single black or LGBT person was nominated in the four acting categories while a total of 20 straight-identifying, cisgender white people were recognized.
Will Smith and Idris Elba, both thought to be strong contenders for their roles in Concussion and Beasts of No Nation, respectively, were snubbed. Meanwhile, both Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight) and Michael B. Jordan (Creed) could have easily been nominated.
In addition to the lack of diversity in the acting nominations, Straight Outta Compton, a story about the founding of iconic rap group N.W.A., was largely overlooked. The film picked up a Best Original Screenplay nomination, but failed to get recognized for Best Picture or any nominations in the music categories. The film was on the Academy’s radar; it has earned several accolades, including a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Additionally, Creed director Ryan Coogler did not crack the mostly white pool of nominees. The Revenant director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who was also nominated and won last year for Birdman, is of Mexican descent.
Meanwhile, transgender actress Mya Taylor, who would have made history if nominated, was not recognized for her work in the critically-acclaimed Tangerine. The Academy did, however, opt to nominate last year’s Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne, for his portrayal of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl.
“One thing that has become apparent to us as we look at this stuff, it seems that the TV Academy has embraced what’s happening in the Trans movement with Transparent and Orange is the New Black,” Mark Duplass told Variety when it launched an Oscar campaign for Taylor and her co-star Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. “We feel that the film Academy is a little behind on that front.”
As for gay nominees, Lily Tomlin (Grandma) and Sarah Paulson (Carol) were also overlooked while filmmaker Todd Haynes, who was thought to be a shoe-in for Carol, was snubbed in the directing category. The film also failed to get nominated for Best Picture, which it was largely considered to be a lock for.
“Of course it's disappointing,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs told ET on Thursday. “[There were] a lot of tremendously good films. There's Straight Outta Compton, Concussion, Creed, [2014’s] Dear White People, Dope, OK? I hope this isn't discouraging for anybody and for filmmakers in particular. You just keep moving along. You keep out there. We will keep out there. We will keep pushing that pedal. We're going to keep pushing it.”
Despite efforts to diversify, the demographic makeup of the Film Academy is still predominantly older white men, and admission to become a voting member of the Academy requires a personal recommendation from a current member. Hollywood is notoriously an old boys club, and according to the Los Angeles Times, the makeup of eligible voters is mostly white (94 percent) men (77 percent) with an average age of 62.
Color of Change, a civil rights group, immediately called out Isaacs and the Academy for its largely white membership, which many believe has led to the lack of diverse nominations in the past.
“We would like to acknowledge and congratulate the filmmakers behind Straight Outta Compton and What Happened, Miss Simone who picked up nods in Best Original Screenplay and Featured Documentary, respectively. But as we all saw today, the Academy continues to have a problem -- and the integrity and legitimacy of AMPAS is at stake if they don’t come up with any answers,” Executive Director Rashad Robinson said in a statement. “It just doesn't make sense that in a country where well over a third of the population are people of color, our art and innovation continues to be ignored by the Academy even as we make billions for their members. Though we commend Isaacs for finally admitting that there needs to be a diversity initiative -- something she denied this time last year -- there are clear loopholes in the process that without a sound plan will continue to yield the same results year after year.”
All of this is a step back from two years ago, when the 86th Academy Awards’ were celebrated with an incredibly diverse ceremony that handed out awards to Lupita Nyong’o, John Ridley, and Steven McQueen for 12 Years a Slave and also included an acting nomination for Chiwetel Ejiofor. Additionally, LGBT films Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena were up for the top prizes.
In 2013, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained were nominated for Best Picture while Denzel Washington and Quvenzhane Wallis were recognized in acting categories. (Though neither one took home a trophy.) In fact, five of the past six ceremonies, African Americans have been nominated in one of the four acting categories. The 2011 Academy Awards were the last all white Oscars.
The Hollywood Reporter reports that the Academy has made efforts to diversify its membership by inviting Selma star David Oyelowo, Concussion actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Compton director F. Gary Gray to join in July 2015. Isaacs also announced a new initiative called A2020 to further encourage more opportunities for women and minorities. However, some groups, like Color of Change, do not think it’s enough.
“Right now, AMPAS continues to rely on an ‘old boys' network’ -- where only members can sponsor new members, and specifically a director can only nominate directors, actors nominate actors, etc. This means that the membership continues to rely on personal and social connections, giving no indication that AMPAS still won't look 90% white and male 100 years from now no matter what Boone Isaacs intentions may be,” Robinson said. “There is no reason to believe that the people who keep the power structure going have any vested interest in seeing something different.”
The 2016 Academy Awards, hosted by Chris Rock, will air live on Sunday, Feb. 28 on ABC.