2016 Oscars: Diversity Issue Takes Center Stage

Neha Harpanhalli

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony took place in the Dolby Theater this past Sunday, February 29, and honored the best English-language films of the past year.

Actor and comedian Chris Rock hosted Hollywood’s biggest night, which was notably filled with controversy over the overwhelming lack of diversity in nominations. Rock tackled this issue head on during the televised broadcast; within minutes, he dubbed it the “White People’s Choice Awards” and later quipped, “You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even have this job.”

He went on to deliver a scathing monologue, highlighting the systematic racism that has impacted the film industry for decades. He explained why Oscars diversity was not addressed in the 50’s and 60’s, when African-Americans had “real things to protest”, taking time to acknowledge those who were snubbed.

Rock kept the controversy front and center during the entire show. The most prominent examples: sketches of Oscar-nominated films starring African-American characters, and African-American men and women giving their Oscar speeches outside a movie theater in Compton. During one of the evening’s many highlights, he raised $65,243 for the Girl Scouts by selling cookies to the audience. At the end of his monologue, on a very serious note, he stated, “We want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunity as white actors. That’s it. And not just once.”


As for the winners: Although The Revenant led the pack with a whopping twelve nominations, it was Spotlight, a “tense drama about investigative journalism at its finest”, that won Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

The Revenant didn’t go entirely empty-handed, however: it bagged 3 Oscars, including Best Cinematography. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of a fur trapper earned him his first Best Actor Oscar, after six nominations. Alejandro González Iñárritu took the award for Best Director, making history by becoming the first director in 66 years to have two consecutive wins in the category (Iñárritu previously won for 2014’s Birdman).

Mad Max: Fury Road was the biggest winner of the night, taking home 6 Oscars exclusively in the technical categories: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Production Design, Film Editing, Costume, and Makeup.

Rising star Brie Larson won Best Actress for her portrayal of an abducted mother held in captivity with her five-year-old son in Room, while Alicia Vikander won Best Supporting Actress, as an artist whose husband undergoes gender reassignment surgery in The Danish Girl. Best Supporting Actor Mark Rylance won for his role as a Russian spy in Bridge of Spies, over heavily-favored Creed star Sylvester Stallone.

Amy took home the Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature Film, while A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness won Best Short Documentary.

The Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to the The Big Short, a film dealing with the financial crisis of 2008.

“Writing’s on the Wall”, the theme song of the James Bond film Spectre, won for Best Original Song. The award went to British singer Sam Smith and songwriter Jimmy Napes. At age 87, Italian composer Ennio Morricone took home his first Oscar for Best Original Score in The Hateful Eight.

The Best Foreign Language Film went to Son of Saul, chronicling the life of a Jewish man forced to work at a Nazi death camp.

Unsurprisingly, Pixar’s Inside Out won Best Animated Feature.

Despite being the highest-grossing film of 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens did not receive awards in any of the 5 categories in which it was nominated. Its presence was only felt when C-3PO, BB-8, and R2-D2 presented an award for visual effects, and director J.J. Abrams presented the award for Best Director.


The ceremony also featured a poignant performance by Lady Gaga, singing her Oscar-nominated song, “Til It Happens to You”. The song was featured in the documentary The Hunting Ground, which dealt with the incidents of sexual assault on American college campuses, with survivors joining her on stage. The performance was preceded powerful introduction by Vice President Joe Biden, who urged the 34.4 million viewers to visit the White House’s new campaign to end campus assault, itsonus.org.

What’s certain is the controversy initially surrounding this year’s ceremony has led to change: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has pledged to change its recruitment process to include double the number of female and minority members by 2020.

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs took the stage to address the upcoming changes.

“Our audiences are global and rich in diversity, and every facet of our industry should be as well,” she stated. “Everyone in the Hollywood community has a role to play in bringing about the vital changes the industry needs so we can accurately reflect the world today… Each of you is an ambassador who can influence people in the industry. It’s not enough to listen and agree; we must take action.”