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Talent or Race?

Daniela Catenacci, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “#OscarsSoWhite was widely discussed. Do you think that TV shows and movies should be required to have more diversity, or should it continue to play out as it does?”

#OscarsSoWhite is a hashtag that was created in 2015 as a result of no African American actors or actresses being nominated at the prestigious Oscar Event. In the same year, there were also no female directors or writers nominated for an award. There were only five non-white directors nominated out of all the movies. In 2016, the top four categories consisted of white men and white women nominees only. The award show was ridiculed and accused of being racist. Although the Oscars were faced with backlash and negativity from many groups in society, the award show should continue to recognize the individuals who work hard to achieve great success in the entertainment industry. In other words, nominations should be based solely on talent.

In 2014, “12 Years a Slave” won a well deserved three awards, one of which included best picture. This is an example showing the Oscars award talent when it is well-deserved. In response to a question about Selma, one voter on the committee explained:

I didn’t think Selma was a particularly good film, apart from the main actor and I think the outcry about the academy being racists for not nominating it for more awards is offensive – we have a two-term president who is a black woman [Cheryl Boone Isaacs] and we give out awards to black people when they deserve them, just like any other group.

The speaker here makes a valid point. There should not be an outline or quota for Oscar nominees with regard to race, gender, or religion. In proposing something like this, fair opportunity for all parties is neglected because the focus becomes meeting the requirements. The Oscars should not be scrutinized for primarily picking white nominees. The bigger issue is the lack of diversified talent directors are picking from.

According to a study reported by The Economist, African Americans comprise of 12% of the American population. Since 2000, they have made up 10% of Oscar nominations. Relatively speaking, the African American community has not been as misrepresented as portrayed by social media and certain spokespeople. Hollywood can more accurately be defined as racist when comparing the overrepresentation of whites to Hispanic or Asian communities. The Oscar nominating committee should continue to base nominations on talent. Going forward, it would be in their best interest to be aware of ratios regarding number of people participating to number of people winning awards with racial classification.

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Daniela is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Integrated Marketing.

Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.  

  • Pepperdine Student Comments
  • Oct 05, 2016

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