Barefoot: The Oscars — a white male awards show

Abigail Barefoot

Ever since I was little I loved the Oscars. It was one of the few times a year I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime, just so I could see who won Best Picture with my dad. I have never missed a year with my dad, since college we have used Skype while watching it; it’s a tradition.

As I grew up the tradition has become sour, the magic has almost dissipated and I have developed a love-hate relationship with the Oscars and Hollywood. I still love the movies, and the Oscars are always fun to watch, but the older I get, the more criticism I have every time I tune into the Academy Awards.

Of course there is always criticism over the Oscars. It’s obvious they usually only focus on mainstream films, or the rare independent film that somehow became a blockbuster, like “Juno”. They seem to ignore comedies and horror films almost every year for the more serious films and dramas. People argue they are too liberal, too long to watch and boring.

But there is something else that sticks out when I watch the show, year after year. I have begun to notice a pattern, one I can’t ignore. Most of the important awards go to white men without fail. Screenwriting, Directing, Best Picture, Cinematography — they are usually handed out to all white dudes.

I thought we made progress last year when Best Director went to Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” and became the first female director to win an Oscar in history. To this day only four women have been nominated. But even after Bigelow’s win we are back to the the year of the man.

Yes, you could say this makes sense considering women make up only 7 percent of all directors and 12 percent of screenwriters in 2008. That’s a big gap for who is telling the stories in Hollywood, especially considering only two of the top 10 grossing films were women-centric that year. So of course women would be statically less likely to win the awards. But 43 years and only one female director win, I think we can throw in bias with statistics.

Then let’s look at what films are female-centric that won best picture since the 1990s, “Chicago,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “Titanic.” That’s it. Two of those are love stories, and one is about scantily clad women who killed men. Not really the female role models I would want.

This idea of who wins the awards can be pushed further when taking into consideration that not once has an African-American won the award for Best Director, and only two have been nominated in Oscar history. Only one Asian-American has won best director, Ang Lee, who also is the only non-Caucasian to win Best Director ever.

Then look at the films that won best picture – who are the main characters of these stories? “Titanic,” “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” “Gladiator,” “Forrest Gump” and “The Departed,” most of these characters are white with maybe a token African-American thrown in the mix. Apart from “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Crash,” most of these stories feature white males in the lead.

So how are films chosen for awards? Well, nominations for Oscars are done by the Academy members who, according to the Academy website, include more than 6,000 members of people in Hollywood including directors, actors and musicians. Membership in the Academy is by invitation of the Board of Governors.

If you look at photo on the website of the board you will see six women and what appears to be no non-whites. Maybe one who may be non-white. So the board that chose to accept people into the Academy — who then chose winners — are mostly white males. I sense a correlation here.

I was unable to find a complete list of members, let alone a breakdown of race and gender, but I’m betting they are in the minority because of who was listed on the Academy’s website of new members.

This shows people who choose which films are Oscar-worthy are mostly white males. While I doubt many of these people are deliberately racist or sexist, apart from Mel Gibson, it does show a lack of consideration for the stories that are unlike the mainstream idea that the world is composed of only white men.

So sure, actors and actress of different races win Oscars, but when it comes down to who is telling the story, it seems that the white male is still the big kid on the block, receiving a vast majority of the awards. So what does that say about the type of stories revered by the most important film-award show in America? The stories of white males are the ones we value and the ones that gain the most respect. Yes, other stories featuring females and different ethnicities get nominated, but do they win?

Think of all the stories you thought were Oscar-worthy that never made the cut. Think of the ones that did. “Avatar” and “Dances with Wolves” –white men trying to save a “primitive” culture. “The Blind Side” and “Precious,” which feature the harsh life of African-Americans, as if it were the only life they could have.

What stories are being told and promoted across America and which ones are being snubbed?

I will watch the Oscars and root for the films I want to win, but I won’t be surprised to see the long line of Caucasian males stealing the show.