WORDS by Tony Zhang
The Academy Awards typically attract the largest non-sport television audience in the US but Reuters reports that the 87th Oscars telecast on the 22nd February has seen viewership numbers plummet to a 6 year low.
Since the telecast, there seems to have been no shortage of critics taking aim at the show’s poor scripting, program schedule, and How I Met your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris’ less than engaging performance as host.
However the 2015 Academy Awards have generated considerable debate for the wrong reasons; issues of sexism and racism within the film industry have again reared their ugly heads. Racism was reflected by the distinct lack of racial diversity amongst the nominee list which subsequently ignited a frenzy on social media as captured by the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.
The Huffington Post reports that “at least one non-white person has been nominated each year since at least 1998,” yet of the 20 Oscar acting nominees, not a single one came from a non-Caucasian ethnic background, effectively making this year’s Oscars the worst for ethnic representation since 1998.
David Oyelowo the lead actor of the film Selma and director Ava DuVernay – both artists of colour – were not nominated in their respective categories despite the film earning a spot as contender for Best Picture. Equally as disappointing was the fact that women were also regrettably under-represented. Not a single female screenwriter or director was nominated.
In one of his better moments, Neil Patrick Harris sent a stinging line to the industry in his open address, saying “Welcome to the 87th Oscars. Tonight, we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.”
The controversy surrounding the Oscars was not only confined to the Award Ceremony itself. The pomp and pageantry of the Red Carpet as the forerunner to the main event never fails to garner significant attention when it comes to the wardrobe choices of Hollywood royalty, but the antics of reporters highlight the nature of sexism in the public gaze.
In response to the seemingly never-ending stream of banal questions being directed at the women, the #AskHerMore hashtag started trending on social media for the duration of the telecast, with users the world over providing suggestions alternative questions.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the #AskHerMore hashtag was first created by non-profit organisation Representation Project in 2014 and gained traction during the Emmy’s that same year. Associated with it are concerns that the achievements of female artists are being overshadowed by interest in their personal lives, their physiques and what they are wearing. The hashtag took off again during this year’s Oscars as Patricia Arquette, Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore echoed many social media users in calling on journalists to start asking Hollywood’s leading ladies more profound, respectful questions.
Unfortunately sexism in the public gaze is all too familiar and does not occur in a vacuum. The Everyday Sexism Project, founded in 2012 was born from the need shared by women across the developed world to collectively recount their oftentimes harrowing experiences of sexism in their day to day lives. More recently in January 2015, Australian freelance writer Clementine Ford started the hashtag #QuestionsForMen aimed at exploring the double standards in the way women are treated from men.
Whilst this is sexism of a different kind to that experienced by the luminaries of the silver screen, it comes as a telling reminder that women who are considered the most privileged in society still suffer sharp instances of gender bias.