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Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Actor David Oyelowo Respond to #OscarsSoWhite

There's still such a long way to go.

A statement from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs

Posted by The Academy on Monday, January 18, 2016

With a statement released on Facebook (as much as Facebook images can be statements, I guess), Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs doubles down on figuring out a way to improve the situation by promising a tougher examination of the Academy membership recruitment process. Things are way late for an improvement this year, and making some fairly thin promises for the future feels like it’s too little too late, to be completely honest.

This year, the Academy’s been copping some real heat for yet another year where they fail to recognize the immense talent being offered by people of color. Isaacs has gone on record in the past–a year ago today, in fact–to say that she doesn’t exactly think the Oscars has a diversity problem, but also she thinks it has a diversity problem. Uh, okay.

While things looked somewhat promising with the Academy’s latest class–which did reflect a bit more diversity than in the past–it seems like it wasn’t nearly enough to impact the thoroughly ingrained biases that are obviously still at play in the nominee selection process.

Celebrities are incredibly conscious of the Academy’s continuing failure. Actor David Oyelowo slammed the Academy and its membership, saying that “I am an Academy member, and it doesn’t reflect me.” He went on to say:

For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.

Oyelowo did his best to defend Isaacs, who so happens to be the first black president of the Academy, and laid the blame for the Academy’s shortcomings at the feet of the membership itself. It seems like he believes Isaacs is doing the best she can.

To be completely honest, when I consider her statement next to the things the Academy’s actually accomplished in terms of diversity, I can’t help but feel like it’s full of empty promises. I’m doing my best to give them credit–it can be difficult, after all, to get people to acknowledge their unconscious biases–but sometimes it just feels like nothing is happening at all.

It seems unreasonable to think that it would take this long to see improvement on this front. It just doesn’t make any sense. The field of potential nominees grows more diverse by the year–the biggest film of the year, The Force Awakens, features a black male lead, for crying out loud–and yet somehow the Academy misses that.

Hell, when the Academy had a chance to recognize Michael B. Jordan’s performance in Creed–a movie by a black director about a black boxer’s black son–they instead gave the nod to Sylvester freakin’ Stallone. What?

Here’s the thing about these nominations and the ongoing struggle for proper recognition: nobody wants a token nomination. Those are often worse than not being nominated at all. What people are trying to call out with these boycotts and statements are the unconscious biases that are seemingly at play in the committee’s selection process.

Think about it–if you’re advocating for the fact that “the best talent should be recognized,” then why are only white actors ever recognized as “the best talent”? There is a fundamental problem with the way people think about “the best,” and it has to do with–as we all keep saying–deeply ingrained unconscious (and sometimes very conscious) biases.

When one of the most prestigious awards in the world, a serious game/life/work changer for so many people, is only ever handed out to the same type of person over and over again, then that makes the award yet another part of a broken institution that thinks it’s fair when it’s anything but.

Nobody’s asking for a handout here, no. Token nominations are a treatment of a symptom, not the disease. People are just asking to be recognized for the immense work that they’re already doing. Until the Academy can get its shit together and figure out how to do that, we’ll be stuck in an echo chamber of sameness, a “mirrortocracy” where only the people who look like the people in power are recognized.

The Academy can do so much better. The Academy must do so much better. Not just for itself but for the people whose lives can change when they’re properly recognized for the work that they do. Isn’t that worth taking seriously?

(featured image Flickr/Craig Piersma)

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