“And the winner is…” A look back at controversies at the Oscars


Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, we’re at the end of the award season – musical and film. The Grammy’s and BRIT awards have been and gone, with the Oscars fresh off the block following the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. It’s the prime season for our favourite actors and actresses to adorn their best gladrags and celebrate how much better than us they all are.

Yet these prestigious awards do have their fair share of controversies, beyond La La Land winning Best Picture for less than five minutes (#awkward). The 2016 Academy Awards were shrouded by claims of racism, due to the lack of black nominees. In his opening speech, host Chris Rock described the awards as “The White People’s Choice Awards”.

So where do these allegations stem from, and is it only the Oscars that are guilty of such heinous crimes?

When looking at the other two major film awards, The BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, there is much less controversy surrounding allegations of racism. The 2015 BAFTAs received some criticism for “snubbing” the 2014 film Selma. However, Amanda Berry, the big cheese at BAFTA, disreputed accusations, blaming the lack of nomination on the time of year the film was released, and everything was fine and dandy once more.

It seems, therefore, that it is only the Oscars that receive serious racist allegations. And here’s my take on why.

There’s no disputing that over the years, the majority of Oscar winners and nominations are white. This infographic from Venngage demonstrates the extent to this imbalance;

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first black person to win an Oscar for her role as ‘Mammy’ in Gone With The Wind. It would take a further 27 years for another woman to win an award (Whoopi Goldberg for her role in Ghost) and 24 years for a black actor to win an award for acting (Sidney Poitier in 1963).

“Why are the Academy Awards allegedly out to be racist?” I would say it’s down to a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, the Academy Awards are generally the most prestigious awards in the world of acting and film. First awarded in 1929, they are the most sought after and desired. Basically, if you’ve won or been nominated for an Academy Award, you’re pretty good at what you do. And here lies the problem. Being so renowned with such a buzz around them, if there is any fault with the Oscars, people will notice and it will be talked about. Being such a relevant and highly discussed topic, racism will not go amiss and the lack of non-white winners and nominations will, as it has done, be noticed.

Would you be wrong to say that the Oscars are racist? Probably not…

Secondly, I would argue that the alleged racism is a hangover from America’s past. It’s no secret that the United States has been exposed to huge problems with racism throughout its history, something that the (Academy Award winning) film 12 Years a Slave so elegantly shows. Whilst the winners are chosen by an elite panel of professionals, the awards arguably reflect the view of the nation at the time.

Therefore, as society progresses to be more accepting of diversity, so will the awards. Luckily we’re seeing this happen; despite being overshadowed by the mishap at the end of the ceremony, the 2017 awards have seen 10 nominations for black actors and filmmakers, quenching the drought of non-white nominations for the past years and potentially making it the most diverse set of winners so far.

Would you be wrong to say that the Oscars are racist? Probably not. Hattie McDonald, despite winning, had to sit at a segregated table during the awards ceremony. But society has changed dramatically since then.  Looking at the awards in the context of the bigger picture however suggests that, whilst the recipients of the famous golden statue in the past have been overwhelmingly white, this may not be the case for future ceremonies.

After all, the world is rapidly changing. Who knows what the future may bring?

To see this year’s list of Oscar nominees and winners, click here (Link: http://oscar.go.com/news/nominations/oscar-nominations-2017-view-the-complete-list-of-nominees)