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Ohio State experts say The Oscars less white this year, but still room for more diversity

For the past two years, no actors of color were nominated for an Oscar.

This year, after increasing controversy and an #OscarsSoWhite social media movement, 18 black actors and film production members were nominated, and — for the first time in the Academy’s history — black actors have been nominated in every acting category.

However, despite the progression for the minority group, there is still an absence of Latinos in leading roles. Ohio State experts weighed in on diversity in The Academy Awards.

Frederick Luis Aldama, a distinguished professor of English and expert on Latino art, literature and film studies, said it’s still far from where it needs to be.

Aldama said the underrepresentation of Latinos isn’t just a problem for the Academy, but for Hollywood as a whole.

“We are not in movies, and we are not behind the camera,” Aldama said. “If we are not on the set, or there learning how to make movies, then how are we ever going to make it in the industry?”

Latinos receiving nominations this year include Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was given a nod for his original song in the movie “Moana,” and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who was nominated for his work in Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.”

Kieran Kelly, a fourth-year in economics and primary leader of OSU’s Film and Video Society, said in an email that the Oscars is simply an awards show honoring cinematic achievement, nothing more or less.

“I feel people would be best served to see the show for what it is — an award show,” he said. “Hollywood is not a diverse place, and this is a show about rewarding achievement in Hollywood.”

According to UCLA’s 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report, Latinos, the largest ethnic group in California, were the most underrepresented group in TV for the second straight year. They also accounted for nearly one out of every four tickets purchased by moviegoers in 2015, according to Motion Picture Association of America.

“‘La  La Land,’ which is supposed to be set in Los Angeles, has one Latina actress,” Aldama said. “In the background of the movie it’s almost as if LA doesn’t have any Latinos even though LA is majority Latino.”

When lead roles are written for Latino characters, non-Latino actors sometimes fill them. Ben Affleck played a Mexican-American CIA agent in the 2012 film “Argo,” and British actor Charlie Hunnam took the role of a Mexican-American cartel leader in the 2016 film “American Drug Lord.”

Aldama said producers and directors need to start thinking about what their teams should look like, as well as the experiences of their teams, otherwise Latinos aren’t going to be given the kind of complex, well-represented stories they deserve.  

“It starts with people thinking outside of the box,” he said. “Not just thinking ‘Oh Matt Damon is going to be my star,’ but maybe thinking of actually putting Diego Luna as one of the protagonists.”

After last year’s boycott, the Academy pledged to enlist new, diverse voters who would double minority membership by 2020. Invitations were sent to 683 distinguished filmmakers, artists and film executives which, according to USA Today, featured 46 percent women and 41 percent minorities

David Filipi, director of film/video for the Wexner Center for the Arts, said the Oscars help detect and initiate this change within the film industry

“The Oscars don’t really serve a practical function, except that it’s a way for Hollywood to advertise itself,” Filipi said. “On the flip side, I do think they’ve been calling attention to some real problems in the film industry in Hollywood — and that is lack of opportunities for women and people of color.”

A woman was not nominated for the best director category this year and a woman has yet to be nominated in the cinematography category. Dev Patel is the only Asian actor nominated this year, and the third Indian actor ever to receive a nomination.

Aldama said he’s hopeful that this year’s protests will spark some urgency in directors and producers in Hollywood to hire more Latinos. He said some Hollywood producers have asked him to send some of his Latino students over for internships.

“We need to see more Latinos behind the scenes, in the lighting, in the creating itself, and we won’t see that if Hollywood doesn’t start waking up,” he said.

The Academy Awards are set to air Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

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