Snubbed movie

"Us" is one of the many recent movies both fans and critics have considered "snubbed" during awards seasons.

The term “snubbed” has become popular around awards season because of the repeated lack of diversity among the nominees, the decision makers and award winners throughout the years.

“We can call it snubbing or we can call it Black erasure because at some point — that’s what it is,” said Novotny Lawrence, an associate professor in both English and journalism and mass communication at Iowa State.

At the 2020 Oscars and Golden Globes, many Black actors and filmmakers felt snubbed and underrepresented because of the lack of Black nominees and winners.

The main rebuttal for years as to why Black actors and filmmakers are not receiving awards for their work is due to the lack of quality content.

This argument is why many people had high hopes for 2020 because of the large amount of acclaimed movies Black actors and filmmakers released in 2019, like "Us," "The Photograph," "Queen & Slim” and “When They See Us,” among others.

queen and slim

"Queen & Slim" is one of the many recent movies both fans and critics have considered "snubbed" during awards season.

“If you look back at the history of Black award winners at these award shows, it becomes clear that there is a significant problem," Lawrence said.

Iowa State students have opinions on this matter as well.

“It’s definitely not the lack of quality [content],” said Cody-Ann Lyn, an Iowa State senior in political science. “The issue is caused by the types of critics at these award shows and the movie budgets.”

Lyn proceeded to say the top movies that typically win these awards stick to casting stereotypical white leads.

Stacey Weber-Fève, an associate professor of French in the department of world languages and cultures at Iowa State University, said she thinks race plays a role through implicit biases and unconscious decision-making processes.

“It’s more than just a glass ceiling,” Weber-Fève said.  “These are very systemic issues that are at the very core of the industry."

Weber-Fève does not believe it’s an issue due to the lack of quality content or a lack of talent, but a financial issue.

“Film, while it is art, is still a commercial product,” Weber-Fève said. “Executives making these financial decisions are not investing in movies that tell a different story than they think will profit at the global market."

In her studies of French cinema, Weber-Fève came across an interesting study about the misrepresentation of Arab men from North Africa and the Middle East and women of African descent in French film and television.

Up until the late 1990s and early 2000s in France, around 90 percent of Arab men who appeared in a major feature film or television program were either thieves or rapists. When a woman of African descent appeared in a major French feature film, she was either a prostitute or a housekeeper.

These negative stereotypes of Black people in French cinema and television reflect many stereotypes portrayed in Hollywood — that Black men are criminals and Black women should either play a domestic worker role or someone promiscuous.

“Hollywood needs to show a range of experiences that Black people have, just like their white counterparts,” Lawrence said. “There is a great fallacy in Hollywood that people don’t want to see Black movies. Black stories aren’t just for Black people. They’re for everybody. Black people can certainly be about slavery and civil rights, but some Black people are doctors, college students, cops and have families.”

Lyn thinks more representation of Black people in mainstream movies produced by Black filmmakers and diversifying the critics at these award shows can help fix the issue.

“It’s hard to get an accurate representation of us unless it’s Black produced,” Lyn said.

In efforts to diversify the Oscars and make it more inclusive, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a set of new rules for the Best Picture award.

The Best Picture nominees need to meet two of the four diversity standards. These rules are meant to increase representation of underrepresented groups in film.

“The rules could be helpful if the film industry gave people the opportunity to create the projects," Lawrence said. “It doesn’t matter if you require that a production crew looks a certain way. That’s great, and those people should get that experience. But if we’re talking about stories and giving people the opportunity to rise to the same level of acclaim as their white counterparts, you have to green light those stories and then support them in the same ways that you do films starring Leonardo DiCaprio.”

To help further fix the lack of diversity, Weber-Fève expressed these award shows should expand their membership eligibility to the diverse group of film scholars instead of people physically working in the industry.

“Institutionalizing media studies and investing in school programs that get the technology to create in the hands of younger students could also help with the lack of diversity,” Weber-Fève said. 

A lack of diversity is one of the biggest issues in modern movies.

“Big media conglomerates also need to diversify people in their key positions and be willing to green light stories about people who don’t look like them,” Lawrence said. “When those opportunities start coming in abundance, that’s when what the award shows are doing will matter most.”

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