February is perhaps my favorite month, as it never fails to entertain; the Oscars, the Grammys, my birthday, and weekdays of new reality TV keep me media-satisfied indefinitely. American culture also gravitates towards award show season, dictating fashion trends, memes, and jokes to come. However, despite the traditions of extravagant gowns and congregations of A-list celebrities, award shows have an important theme of predominant whiteness that has never been resolved in their decades of existence.
In 2016, both Will and Jada Pinkett Smith boycotted the Oscars, calling attention to the whitewashed nominations that did not fairly recognize minorities. The reasoning behind the boycott was to gather resources for an award show that appropriately acknowledged all races, that the “mainstream” ceremonies did not. This is the main purpose of award shows such as the BET and NAACP Awards, that recognize black achievements in the media that go unnoticed otherwise.
That same year, Saturday Night Live reinforced the racially exclusive sentiments with a skit called “Screen Guild Awards” clearly satirizing the Oscars with gold trophies for cinematic awards. As the nominees for best actor were mentioned, each film had an extraordinary lead role portrayed by a black actor who was not nominated; the nominees instead consisted of abstract roles featuring white actors, like “white man with camera” and “Dave” the librarian. The parody was obviously highlighting the tendency for only white actors to be chosen by the Academy, regardless of merit or skill.
Similarly, the Grammys are often sources of contention when it comes to awards given for rap and hip-hop, that often reflect the work of black artists. The award itself has caused backlash for cultural appropriation when white artists overlap into rap and/or hip-hop, such as Macklemore and Iggy Azalea. For all intents and purposes, there is no effective system currently in place for awards like the Grammys and the Oscars to eradicate racism and celebrate diverse people and cultures.
Can there be affirmative action for award shows? In an American tradition that is inherently subjective, is there a way to ensure racial equality? In this case, including diversity into awards shows is another way to change the narrative of racism and microaggressions in the United States. Not only can successful actors be people of color, but they can be recognized for their achievements by receiving prestigious awards. Yes, Octavia Spencer and Denzel Washington have won Oscars, but the ratio of white nominations to that of minorities is too skewed to deny.