“Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.” – Neil Patrick Harris, host of the 87th Annual Academy Awards.
Diversity in media matters. That is one of the core beliefs here at BAYCAT, and it’s something that many would say they support as well. However, diversity and representation was not on display last night when the staff at BAYCAT joined 36.6 million Americans in watching the 87th Annual Academy Awards.
When we look past the glittery gowns and gold statues, we realize that not much has changed in the last 87 years of the Oscars. 2015 marks the whitest Oscar year since 1995, as the Academy did not recognize a single actor of color. There were also no female directors, screenwriters or cinematographers nominated. None of the Best Picture nominees were films about women or had a female lead.
As trainers of the media makers of tomorrow, BAYCAT aims to change this trend.
In Academy Award history, only 4 female directors have ever been nominated, and there has been only 1 win (Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker). The number of major studio films directed by women has declined since Ms. Bigelow’s win, “hitting a high of 8.1% in 2010, and falling to a low of 4.6% last year,” according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of films directed by women at the six major studios. Women in general lagged behind their male counterparts across the board, with 44 out of 200+ Academy nominations being for female artists this awards season.
Academy membership is still 94% White, 77% Male, with a median age of 62. What kind of stories will be told, and what narratives recognized when there is such a sameness in the voting body? We can access such a rich story when we invite a diversity of perspectives. Now, more than ever, nurturing the ambitions and career plans of our young artists is essential if we hope to see a change on screen and in society.
But becoming one of these media makers requires access. Access that many youth of color do not have, thanks to the creative digital divide. In San Francisco, specific communities like Bayview Hunters Point and the Mission have limited access to computers and technical training. A 2013 U.S. Census study found that Hispanic and African American youth still trail significantly behind other ethnicities in computer ownership, while a class-based digital production gap exists, as low-income users are less likely to engage in content creation due to disadvantages in education, according to a 2011 study out of UC Berkeley.
If Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma had been nominated, she would have been the first African American director nominated in Oscar history. Some groups had planned to protest the lack of diversity among nominees, but it was canceled at the director’s request.
Diversity and representation in media is not equitable, and as a community, it is up to us to demand change, not simply by words, but through action. Our Media Pathways Internship, and youth programs began earlier this month, and BAYCAT is working with our youth of color, low income youth and young women, to strengthen the representation of all people in media, both in front of and behind the camera. Our young artists create a tapestry that reflects all of us, not just some, and we empower them, everyday, to tell their own stories. We don’t have to wait for change to start. It already has.