#OscarsSoWhite: Symptom vs. Disease

Sometimes, living in such a multicultural society, we are blind to other people’s colors. With people from different races, cultures, and ethnicities, there isn’t room for racial profiling – so there aren’t that many instances of segregation or exclusion due to a person’s external appearances here in ISKL. That’s why when the hashtag “OscarsSoWhite” blew up on the internet, it was hard for us to comprehend why a large organization like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences neglected to diversify their nominees. Shiv ‘16 says, “I was just surprised to see that this was a real issue even in today’s media industry that is supposed to have surpassed racial conflicts a long time ago.”

So what exactly is #OscarsSoWhite? Well, for the second year in a row, there has not been a single person of color nominated for an Oscar in an acting category. And it’s not because of the lack of choice: Idris Elba stunned in Beasts of No Nation, and Michael B. Jordan breathed new life into the Rocky film series with his role in Creed. Many other awards shows, like the Screen Actors Guild, nominated and awarded various actors and actresses of different ethnicities and color.

It’s important, when looking at problems like this, to look at the symptom vs. the disease: the non-diverse Oscars are but an effect of a decades-old practice of racism in media (see: Long Duk Dong in 16 Candles and Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany’s). The major problem is that the movie industry is ageing and less diverse than the TV show industry. Dallas ‘18 points out, “There’s still influence from other cultures and there’s tv shows like Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat that aren’t from like, white point of views.” With TV shows that show the colorful settings of a multi-racial society, as seen in Orange is the New Black and Modern Family, why is the film industry lacking in that department? Could it be because of the lack of diversity in the writer’s room? Or are there just simply no stellar movies that feature people of color that aren’t about the martial arts, Martin Luther King Jr., or the drug cartel? Jennifer Lawrence is critically acclaimed this year for her performance in Joy – a film revolving a suburban woman who invents a mop – but the film could have easily been about Madam C. J. Walker, the first female AND African American self-made millionaire during the dawn of the 20th century. She is known for not only her beauty products that reshaped fashion, but also for advocating for women’s rights and black rights. The root of the problem starts in the script room – where the lack of diversity is reflected in the cast and the plot.

There is no reason for western media to focus on only one race and color. The United States is a country filled with people of different nationalities, races, religions, and cultures – much like Kuala Lumpur. There’s no doubt that the lack of representation is foreign to us, however. As Isabelle ‘18 eloquently sums up, “Western culture and media can still definitely affect third culture kids. However, in the ISKL community, there really is no racial superiority or division. Because we’re all so racially diverse and we are raised among people of different cultures and backgrounds, equal opportunity between different races is not something foreign to us. I feel very lucky that this is the case, and that ISKL isn’t affected by these instances of racism that are present in many modern societies.”