Oscars 2016: Lack of Diversity Has Historically Been a Problem

PHOTO: The Oscar Statuette is on display during the grand opening of National Museum Of American Historys Innovation Wing at the National Museum Of American History on July 1, 2015 in Washington.PlayKris Connor/ Getty Images
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For two years, critics have sounded off about the lack of diversity in nominations in the Academy Awards. Social media commentators have used the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, to share their disappointment. And there hasn't been a person of color nominated in the top acting categories.

But is lack of diversity in nominations at the Oscars, which will be broadcast Feb. 28 on ABC, a recent problem?

No. Not when looking at the numbers historically.

This year, the lack of diversity reached a fever pitch when actress Jada Pinkett Smith, her husband Will Smith and director Spike Lee said they will not be attending this year's show.

Other stars have also spoken out about their disappointment over the lack of diversity including Oscars host Chris Rock, Mark Ruffalo, Whoopi Goldberg, Reese Witherspoon, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael Moore, David Oyelowo, Lena Dunham, Daniel Radcliffe, Danny DeVito and many others.

Many pointed to Oscar-worthy films that included persons of color in the acting and directing categories, such as "Creed," "Straight Outta Compton," "Chi-Raq" and "Beasts of No Nation."

Of those films, Sylvester Stallone received a nod for Best Supporting Actor and "Straight Outta Compton" was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, potentially giving coveted gold statuettes to four white writers.

A Look Back

History shows that critics have long kept a close eye on the lack of diversity in the nominations -- especially the nods for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress -- at the Academy Awards, which began handing out trophies in 1929.

Despite a handful of Oscar categories that have been historically diverse in race, gender and sexual orientation (Costume Design, Hair/Makeup, Editing, Feature-Animation, Documentaries, and Shorts), the acting categories have remained a point of interest.

"Those are the ones that people recognize the names. You may even recognize the film so people gravitate toward those top categories although people work in a myriad of roles," Danielle Belton, associate editor of The Root, told ABC News.

Entertainment trade magazine Variety published a series of articles in 1956, asking about the lack of quality roles for African American actors. And 40 years later, People magazine wrote an in-depth article on minorities in Hollywood, titled, "What's Wrong with This Picture?" The article's subtitle read, "Exclusion of Minorities Has Become a Way of Life in Hollywood." That article would inspire Rev. Jesse Jackson to organize an Academy Awards protest that year.

A Look at the Numbers

So What's the Solution?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded quickly to the backlash. Eight days after the nominations were announced in January the Academy took steps toward correcting the problem. The board voted unanimously to increase the number of women and people of color in its membership by 2020.

"The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up," Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in a statement. "These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition."

Still, many in Hollywood don't believe the Oscars are the problem at all.

Whoopi Goldberg, Oscar winner and former host of the ceremony, explained her take on Hollywood in January on "The View."

"It's not that the people doing the nominating are too white. They're not looking at a movie and saying 'That's very white. I'm not going to nominate that black movie.' The problem is, people who can help to make movies that have blacks and Latinos and women and all that, that money doesn't come to you because the idea is that there's no place for black movies," Goldberg, who is the first African American to have secured Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nods, explained. "There has never been, in the history of movies, a plethora of black movies made because people believe we don't want to see movies with black people in them."

A 2015 report by the University of California, Los Angeles, which studied diversity in 2012 and 2013 films, said minority actors made up 16.7 percent of leading roles in film. It was an improvement from 2012, when only 15.1 percent of minority actors had leading roles. The study also found that film studio heads, who make the decisions of what films get scrapped or green-lit, were 94 percent white and 100 percent male.

Fellow Oscar winner Clooney agreed with Goldberg.

"The Academy isn't the issue," he told ABC News earlier this month. "The Academy is at the very tip of the spear at the very end. The real problems are the diversity from the beginning, the people who are green-lighting films."

"When I take a script to a studio and they give me five names that they'll make the film with, we want to change who all those people and those names are on that script," Clooney, 54, added. "And that means diversity from the agencies, from the writers, from a lot of that."

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