Editor’s Note: Abiola Oke is the CEO of OkayAfrica, a digital media platform that explores film, culture, music and entertainment in Africa and the diaspora. He’s a film enthusiast and analyses the recent #OscarssoWhite controversy and why Beasts of No Nation failed to land a single nomination. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Follow him on Twitter
“Beasts of No Nation” was one of the best films of 2015, yet it didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination. In fact, out of 528 nominations in the Best Picture category, no film with an all-black cast has ever been nominated for Best Picture. Even space has more gravity than the number of all black-cast films nominated.
In the spirit of fairness, “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” which featured virtually all non-white casts, received nominations and won respectively.
It might be irresponsible but certainly not irrational of me to suggest that one of the reasons “Beasts” was snubbed at the Oscars was because of the racial make-up of its cast.
When you consider the Academy’s 87-year history of ignoring black performances—only 15 African Americans have won the honors for acting—the thought of unintentional bias doesn’t seem so absurd.
The stats don’t lie
In an LA Times study where more than 5,100 of the 6000 plus Oscar voting members were analyzed, about 94 percent are white and 75 percent male. Blacks make up a disappointing 2 percent of the total voting body, and Latinos less than 2 percent. Surely this does not represent the general viewing public.
Given the stats above, it should come as no surprise that there wasn’t a single black actor recognized in this year’s nominations. Idris Elba with his riveting performance as a warrior demagogue and new comer Abraham Attah who played an impressionable child soldier thrust into the devastation of civil war were some of this year’s most egregious snubs.
Attah was this year’s golden child, a true talent, he deserved every ounce of acknowledgment available to an actor.
Variety magazine reported an analysis of all digital content engagement involving Oscar nomination surprises assessing over 600,000 media platforms for Oscar snubs and concluded that “Beast of No Nation” was the most-discussed film snub, with Idris Elba leading the actor category.
Best Picture is the highest honor a film can be awarded at the Academy Awards. It’s the culmination of outstanding acting, direction, writing, editing, composing and more.
What went wrong with “Beasts of No Nation”?
The snubbing of ‘black films,’ actors and actress should come as no surprise when one examines the evidence and history of the academy’s continued exclusion. This makes it very difficult to argue against the proponents of the hashtag #OscarSoWhite this year. “Straight Outta Compton”, a film about the immensely influential gangsta rap group NWA, was a glaring omission.
Ryan Coogler, “Creed‘“s director wasn’t even as much as acknowledged let alone thanked by Sylvester Stallone in his Golden Globe acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, nor was the star of the film, Michael B. Jordan who played Apollo Creed’s son in the film, (although Stallone did later thank them at the Critic’s Choice Award). An unintentional omission to be sure, but therein lies the problem.
If we’re looking at other indicators for what makes a Best Picture, let’s look at the numbers. According to a 2011 study by Brendan Bettinger, film columnist for Collider, nearly 80 percent of all Best Picture winners after 1960 are longer than two hours. Well “Creed”, “Straight out of Compton” and “Beasts” were well over 120 minutes. Perhaps these films were of the wrong genre.
Bettinger’s study shows that over 80 percent of the films nominated and 89 percent of the films that won for Best Picture were films listed in the drama category with Oscar voters favoring war movies when they are nominated, perhaps “Beasts” need a bit more gore – #Sarcasm.
Beasts a hit with the audience
Surely it has to be that audiences didn’t like the film. “Beasts” garnered five stars from viewers on Netflix and was rated 91 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. “Straight out of Compton” was a ziplock fresh 88 percent and both films garnered 7.8 and 8.8 star ratings on IMBD respectively. More than 75 percent of the Best Picture winners had an IMDB rating of 7.6 or better.
In 2009, the Academy increased the number of films allowed to be nominated in the Best Picture award category from five to a maximum of 10. There were only eight movies nominated for Best Picture this year.
Clearly there was room for two more.
But why does this all matter? After all, to quote Jada Pinkett Smith in a recent video post about boycotting the Oscars, “Begging for acknowledgment… diminishes power.” I couldn’t agree more.
However, as we continue to produce, direct and put forth the best acting that we’re capable of, institutional acknowledgment notwithstanding, we must continue to hold these platforms accountable for the inclusion that they falsely espouse, with the real work beginning not at the award shows, but by the studios.