The Oscars: Whitewashing and Discrimination Abound

By: Kathrine Popielarz

Oscar nominations prompted immense buzz earlier this moth when they failed to include minorities in many of the prominent categories. It even prompted an #Oscarssowhite boycott on Twitter, and ignited many discussions about the way race is portrayed in Hollywood.

This past Sunday was the big event, and many were watching to see how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would respond after many accused them of not recognizing minorities, especially African Americans. However, the show seemed to drop the ball on redeeming themselves, and the theme of discrimination continued. From failed jokes about diversity to the exclusion, and some would say insensitive treatment, towards other minorities it seemed the Oscars continued to be a disappointment to all those hoping it would be used as a platform for change and inclusion.

Certainly, there were a number of things that people took issue with, but the part of the night that troubles me the most is what most would consider the night’s crowning moment: Leonardo DiCaprio’s first Oscar win. I am not questioning Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting ability or whether his performance deserved recognition from the Academy; all of those questions are irrelevant here. The aspect that I struggle with is that a white actor earned an award for helming a film which largely depicted Native Americans. It’s intriguing to me that this depiction of the settler days of America was, as in many other films, told from the perspective of a white man. Of course, he is painted sympathetically; he was married to a Native American woman, and his son is mixed, but at the end of the day he is still white.

The saying “History is written by the victors” comes to mind when I witness yet another film that focuses on the white experience while keeping minorities, in this case Native Americans, on the fringe. What is even more disheartening is the long history of whitewashed films has being recognized at the Oscars. The most notorious case of this is perhaps the 1986 Oscars in which Out of Africa won best picture; the story revolves primarily around upper class white people running a plantation in Africa. It is noteworthy that one of the fellow nominees that year was The Color Purple. When will stories about people of color demand their own platform independent of a white voice?

Hollywood is an extremely prominent force in modern culture. The stories and images they choose to promote can have a large impact on the way culture is formed and perpetuated. It seems about time that they move away from racist conventions of the past, and finally allow people of color to tell their own stories, and more importantly their own history.

For those who think I am exaggerating the degree to which Hollywood whitewashing permeates I leave you with this excellent piece from Last Week Tonight, outlining the sordid history of whitewashing in Hollywood:

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