Few months ago Charlotte Rampling added fuel to the fire of debate regarding the lack of diversity amongst Oscar award nominees. Her comments on French radio station, Europe1, that the controversy was “racist to white people” sparked indignation from the global community, as #Oscarssowhite raged on Twitter and across social media networks.
British actor David Oyelow has suggested that the problem lies with the make-up of the Academy itself, which is not representative of the diversity of the American people. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy’s own film marketing and public relations executive, also took to Twitter to speak out and to call for change.
In response to the outcry, the Academy has committed to a number of changes to the conditions of membership in order “to make the Academy’s membership, its leaders and its voting members much more diverse by the year 2020.” These changes include the creation of three new governors seats, which will be filled by women and people of color.
The underrepresentation of ethnic minority groups is problematic not only in Hollywood but also this side of the Atlantic. According to an article written by Labour MP Chris Bryant, only five per cent of the people working in the creative industries are Black, Asian or of another minority ethnic group, in spite of the fact that this group makes up 12 per cent of the population (Independent 2015).
Not only this but, according to the British Film Institute, amongst the representations of ethnic minority groups in film “forty per cent of the general public said that characters from ethnic minorities are too often represented in a tokenistic way”.
Whilst steps to change the makeup of the Academy board may set wheels in motion, the question of the underrepresentation of ethnic minority groups is deeply entrenched in social and political systems in both the US and the UK. How then are these concerns to be addressed? Is it a question of encouraging wider debate that stretches beyond the arts industry?
It may seem unfortunate that the somewhat misguided comments of Charlotte Rampling were necessary to bring this debate to the forefront. On the other hand, could we not thank her for this honest commentary? Too often, people are reluctant to say what they feel due to the trappings of political correctness. Her words, however we might feel about them, are reflective of the attitudes of fellow arts industry workers and therefore cannot be discounted.
That is not to say that we should either commend or condemn Rampling for her words, but merely to highlight the fact that however we might interpret her statement, it has encouraged new awareness and widespread engagement with the debate across cultural and ethnic divides, which could be seen as a victory in itself.