Art has always been foundational to human culture. Our early human ancestors would paint on cave walls while others whispered stories around a crackling fire. With the digital technological age came an ease in transmitting stories across culture and geography. However, although technology enables humans from different walks of life to all metaphorically sit around the same campfire, why does there tend to be only one person telling the stories?
An academy award is considered one of the greatest accolades one can receive within the entertainment industry. However, selectors of this award are still disproportionately white men. Actors such as Jada Pinkett Smith, and filmmakers Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, have spoken out about the whitewashing of the academy and the unspoken pattern of nominating only white actors. A major outcry erupted from fans and industry insiders over actors such as Beasts of No Nation's Idris Elba, Concussion's Will Smith, and Creed's Michael B. Jordan being overlooked by the academy.
Pinkett Smith argues that people of color should redirect their resources. Janet Hubert elucidates that there has always been a lack of diversity in Hollywood, and it speaks to greater historical and systemic prejudices present within the nation. Others like Stacey Dash believe people of color promote racial divisiveness by watching black television networks and celebrating Black History Month. What do you think?
My thoughts? Historically, only one storyteller has spoken around the campfire. This storyteller not only told their stories but the stories of others. Again, because artistic expression is intrinsic to all humans, not just those who benefit from racial privilege, it was inevitable that suppressed groups (such as African Americans, Latinos, and women etc.) would create mediums in which they could develop their own stories.
This is why media outlets like Ebony Magazine and Black Entertainment Television originated. Furthermore, the misappropriation of African Diaspora culture was quite salient throughout American cinema and education (i.e. films such as Gods of Egypt is just one exemplar in a long line of films that cast white actors in the roles of black and other historic personalities of color.
Like Woman's History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month brings national awareness to the contributions of a people to American and global society. If America indeed prides itself on being a salad bowl and melting pot (whichever analogy you prefer) the rich and diverse cultural heritages of all Americans should be equally preserved and respected.
Yes, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must reflect the society that inspires it, but such change will never be fully realized if American society only embraces diversity on paper. To embrace difference, individuals must learn to embrace (or at the very least tolerate) the histories, languages, cultures, and ancestries of others.
But how can we, if the stories that preserve our human culture are never told? Globalization via digital technology has enabled us to consume the stories of people from all corners of the planet. Surely, there is enough room around the campfire for more than one storyteller?