The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) could see a resurgence of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy it endured last year if the organization does not nominate any people of color for acting honors at this year’s Academy Awards, a possibility seen as increasingly likely by many Hollywood awards insiders.
Last year, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag began trending on Twitter shortly after nominations were announced in January, with many on social media deriding the academy for selecting exclusively white actors and actresses in all four acting categories.
The controversy—fueled by pundits and fans who felt that Selma director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo were snubbed when they failed to received individual nominations—sparked threats of protest from local minority group leaders and a sharp response from academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who vowed the organization would continue working toward a “greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
But AMPAS could see a repeat of the controversy this year if awards insiders’ early nomination predictions hold true.
According to guesses made by two dozen film writers, critics, and insiders compiled by the awards prediction website Gold Derby, Idris Elba and Will Smith are the only two people of color seen as likely to be nominated for acting awards—Elba for his part as the sadistic Commandant in the Netflix war drama Beasts of No Nation and Smith for his role as Dr. Bennet Omalu in the NFL head trauma controversy biopic Concussion.
Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight) and Michael B. Jordan (Creed) earned critical acclaim for their performances and could earn nominations but were not included in any of the experts’ predictions at Gold Derby.
Meanwhile, the experts’ predictions for the actress categories contain exclusively white women. Brie Larson (Room) and Cate Blanchett (Carol) are seen as the favorites in the Best Actress category, while Rooney Mara (also Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) are at the top of most experts’ Supporting Actress lists.
The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that fear of a reprisal of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy could affect academy voters as they finish casting their ballots this week.
“If it’s all-white again, nobody’s going to happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” USC professor and author Steve Ross told the paper. “It has to be a good performance, but, for some, if they’re deciding between Will Smith and somebody else, they might just go for Will Smith because of what happened last year.”
Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray, one of the newest members of the academy, said he would not take that approach.
“I’m not going to allow politics to influence my judgement because then that defeats the purpose,” Gray told the paper. “That’s not how I make movies and it’s not how I’ll vote. If something moves me and touches me, that’s probably the direction I’ll go.”
Diversity in Hollywood—or the lack thereof—was a hot topic at the academy’s annual Governors Awards in November, where director Spike Lee lauded Boone Isaacs’s efforts at greater inclusion but also called for a “serious discussion about diversity” and said the film industry had “a long way to go.”
“Everybody in here probably voted for Obama but when I go to offices, I see no black folks except for the brother man at the security who checks my name off the list as I go into the studio,” Lee said at the time while accepting an honorary Oscar. “So we can talk ‘yabba yabba yabba’ but we need to have some serious discussion about diversity and get some flavor up in this. This industry is so behind sports it’s ridiculous.”
The same evening, Boone Issacs announced a new academy diversity initiative called A2020, a five-year plan that would see the organization “hire, mentor, encourage and promote talent in all areas of our profession.”
The nominations for the Academy Awards are due out on January 14th. Chris Rock hosts this year’s show, which will be broadcast live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on ABC February 28.