A chilling photo montage from Colorlines, titled “Get Ready for the Whitest Oscars in a Decade,” made me realize just how screwed up Hollywood is when it comes to matters of race.
Then someone piped up in the Colorlines comments section and said that Hailee Steinfeld technically counts as a woman of colour because her mother is of Filipino, African-American, and European descent. It’s an interesting point, but I would also argue that Steinfeld definitely passes as white, and her role in True Grit is that of a white girl, not a person of colour. This also brings up an interesting notion of how minority actors are either pushed to the margins, or can only win when they play into what the white mainstream media conceive as an appropriate black* film (as was the case with Precious), or can “pass” and play “white” roles.
Then again, the Oscars were never really about diversity, were they? Here are some depressing Oscar facts:
The first black person to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel, for her role as Mamie in Gone with the Wind. That was in 1939.
Halle Berry was the first black woman to win an Oscar in the Best Actress category, in 2001 (for Monster’s Ball).
There has never been an Asian woman or an Asian man nominated in the Best Actor or Best Actress category. (Wikipedia cites Merle Oberon, a British woman born in India, as the only instance when an “Asian” woman was nominated in this category. Wikipedia also states that Yul Brynner, whose father was from Russia, as an “Asian” man who was nominated for Best Actor category for The King and I. I disagree with Wikipedia.)
Ang Lee was the first person of Asian descent to win in the Best Director category in 2005 (for Brokeback Mountain).
[Image and Oscar facts from Wikipedia pages “List of black Academy Award winners and nominees,” and “List of Asian Academy Award winners and nominees”
*I’m not talking about Asian-Americans or Latin-Americans or Native Americans because I believe the market hasn’t really opened up widely enough yet, unless their roles are contained within a white narrative.