For the second year in a row, the annual Oscars ceremony will be unmistakably…white.

The Academy Award nominations were announced early Thursday morning. Snubs, no doubt, are expected. Upsets happen. But in the midst of growing criticism for Hollywood’s lack of diversity, it’s hard not seeing this year’s nominations as egregious erasure.

Black art was not entirely lacking. The Weeknd was nominated in the Original Song category for “Earned It” on the “50 Shades of Grey” soundtrack. And Netflix’s “What Happened, Miss Simone?” was included in the Documentary Feature category.

But its recognition was at the barest of minimums. The only people nominated for their work on “Straight Outta Compton” were the two white screenwriters. No black actors were included in the four main categories: Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, and Best Actor. And although Best Picture can include up to ten films, this year’s nominations included eight, none of which focused on a story highlighting black actors.

The absence was not indicative of talent. Sylvester Stallone is indebted to director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan for his Best Supporting Actor nomination in his reprisal of Rocky Balboa in “Creed.” The two were able to bring out the performance of a lifetime from an actor more well known for mumbling. Nonetheless, neither were nominated. The film was ignored, alongside “Straight Outta Compton.” Acclaimed performances from Idris Elba and Abraham Attah in “Beasts of No Nation,” Will Smith in “Concussion,” and trans actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor in “Tangerine” also deserved honors, but were, instead, cast aside.

Asking why this continues to happen today is rhetorical. There is no excuse. Choices are being made to maintain a glass ceiling so that, in the name of progress, actors of color are able to look at the sky but never touch it. Now, the time has come for the Academy to take responsibility.

Nominations do not exist in a vacuum. They arise based on the votes of Academy members, who have to meet one of two criteria: two current members from a branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must vouch for you, or you must be nominated for an Oscar.

The guidelines point to a peer-reviewed professionalization. But when both criteria lack in areas of representation, “peer” fails to encapsulate how those who have historically been denied rights to the club are still foreclosed access. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the well kept secret of who constitutes the Academy’s then 5,765  voting membership was largely white and male. The Times found that 94 percent of the voters were white and 77 percent were male with a median age of 62. Black people included less than 2 percent.

The profile is one of an old guard, of those who have never known what is like to not see themselves at the award shows because they have only ever known themselves to be worthy of being on screen and praised.

Last year, in an effort to change, the Times reported that the Academy welcomed its largest class, inviting 322 people to join, 28 percent of whom were women and 23 percent who were people of color. But when we have nominations that look like this year’s and last’s, representational strides are undermined. Their presence is treated as an exception rather than a rule, and exclusion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The same types of people are given a chance, while others remain at the periphery, waiting to catch the eye of an organization that shows no interest in actually seeing them in their full capacity.

“The reason the rest of the world looks at us like we have no clue is because in 2016 it’s a complete embarrassment to say that the heights of cinematic achievement have only been reached by white people,” “Straight Outta Compton” producer Will Packer wrote on Facebook. “I repeat—it’s embarrassing. It’s unfair to the performers of color who sacrificed so much, laid it all on the line AND DELIVERED with their projects this year.”

White actors are given the opportunity to be honored to explore their craft in a range of roles. Black actors are boxed in, and ignored when they break past the boundaries. Rarely are they recognized for playing characters or telling stories that exist outside of the mold of slavery, that do not exploit black pain, or do not fulfill stereotypes of violence and moral corruption.

Last year, many felt that “Selma” was snubbed for Best Director and Best Actor nods for Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo because of the film’s unwillingness to convey a Civil Rights history that indulged a benevolent white savior narrative. Today, “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton,” seem to have fallen to a similar fate for their failure to meet this expectation. The two films focused on a black present. But storylines of black people that exist in the here-and-now have yet to be outweighed by a nostalgic reprisal of roles we are always already assumed to fill: the serving class, ready and willing to assist others in the manifestation of the image they have created of us rather than image us for ourselves.

In response to these imposed on-screen and off-screen limitations, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith eluded to a potential boycott on Twitter.

What good is the Academy for black actors’ careers when they cannot assume the industry’s highest recognition as an option?

Amidst criticism, the Academy has only tried to gaslight the issue, reducing these concerns to conspiracy.

The evidence no less shows that this is the one conspiracy that is undeniably founded.

Comedian Chris Rock is set to host the awards show live Feb. 28 on ABC. No doubt, he has plenty of material for sociopolitical commentary.

But after the awards are given, and the laughs have subsided, responsibility remains with the Academy to ensure this does not happen again.


(Photo credit: Flickr)