Diversity in Hollywood has become a highly discussed and often controversial topic in the past several years. To better understand the discussion and its consequences, we created a visual that depicts the diversity of Academy Award nominees in the categories of Best Actor/Actress (lead and supporting roles), and Best Director, since the first ceremony in 1928.
Diversity has evidently been an issue from the early days of Hollywood. It’s a problem that has persisted for nearly 90 years, and a conversation that still needs attention today. In 2015, the lack of diversity was so profound, it sparked the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag on social media. It was the first of two consecutive years where all 20 actors nominated in the lead and supporting acting categories were white. Considering the last time the same scenario occurred was 1998, it was seen as a huge step back for progress in Hollywood. So, what have we learned? How has popular culture been affected, and how, if at all, has Hollywood recovered?
Out of the 2,153 nominees in the acting and directing categories since the first Academy Awards, only 144 nominees have been people of color. That’s 6.6 percent in a country where nearly 40 percent of the population is represented by minorities.
The first 10 years of the Oscars were exclusively white. In fact, the first minority nominee was African American actress Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in 1939’s Gone With the Wind (McDaniel won the award).
Despite the 2015 and 2016 controversies of #OscarsSoWhite, the last 10 years of the Oscars do show progress. Fifteen percent of the nominees during this time have been minorities. While this increase is important, it hasn’t changed things over night. In last year’s “Hollywood Diversity Report,” released by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, analysis showed that while roles for minorities on and off camera have increased in television, film has fallen behind. Perhaps the success of shows with minority casts and crews will slowly begin to influence the way roles and jobs are offered to a more diverse crowd in film. In a “Perceptions of Leadership Team Diversity” study conducted last year, the “media and entertainment” industry was at the very bottom of the list, landing at #14 out of 17 industries. This gives Hollywood a great deal of room for improvement.
This gap in representation brings up a wider discussion. In a country where 98 percent of our presidents historically have been white, and an average of 80 percent of representatives in congress, senate and the house are also white, the problem obviously runs deeper than having more minorities in films.
There’s a definite push and interest from our youth to see more diversity. While it’s not so evident in something like politics, of the 20 most followed celebrities on Instagram, eight represent minority groups. This directly represents the 40 percent of diversity within our own population.
While looking at the history of diversity in Hollywood is complex, the improvement over time leaves us hopeful for better representation of minorities on the big screen. Either way, we can’t deny society’s desire to see more people of color in prominent roles, and hopefully that sentiment will be mirrored in film and by the Academy in the near future.
“UCLA Hollywood diversity report” - LA TIMES
“Oscars so white reaction” - LA TIMES
“Diversity in Hollywood” - NPR