Oscars: Too white and too old?

Once again, the Academy Award nominations have been criticised for ignoring non-white talent

Once more, the Academy Award nominations will give plenty of ammunition to those who think its picks skew old, conservative and white.

On Thursday, when the Academy Awards nominations were announced, the loudest applause was reserved for an actor who might have been dismissed as pure action-hero beefcake for much of his career.

Sylvester Stallone, 69, was given a Best Supporting Actor nod, the only Oscar nomination he has received since 1977, when he was nominated for Best Actor for playing Rocky Balboa in the boxing drama Rocky (1976).

Creed, the movie for which he got the nod last night, is appropriately enough the latest movie in the Rocky franchise.


Sylvester Stallone won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for Creed. -- PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Earlier, on Monday, adding to his late-career acclaim, he won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting actor, also for Creed.

Another sentimental favourite, actress Charlotte Rampling, was also picked, in the Best Actress category.

The nomination for the 69-year-old English actress came for her part in the drama 45 Years.

This is the first Oscar nod for the highly respected actress, whose career spans five decades.

Stallone and Rampling could go on to win in their categories on a tide of voter nostalgia. The average age of the Academy voter is 63, leading to a bias for older actors with a large body of work.

It was a factor in the Best Supporting Actor win last year for the veteran J.K. Simmons, 61 (Whiplash, 2014).

The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended last year and has resurfaced this year, after non-white actors including Michael B. Jordan (Creed) failed to make the shortlist.

British director Ridley Scott failed to be nominated for Best Director for The Martian, despite critical acclaim for the movies.

The speculation is that the Academy voters want only one big, noisy blockbuster on the list of works and felt that the single spot should go to Australian auteur George Miller, for road carnage flick Mad Max: Fury Road, a crowd-pleasing action movie which gained 10 nominations, including Best Picture.

The story of a man left to die in the wilderness emerged as the one to beat with its 12 Oscar nominations, the most of any film on the list. This comes as no surprise - The Revenant was tipped to figure in the major categories. Its director, Mexican-born Alejandro Inarritu, last year took home the Best Director and Best Motion Picture prizes for the drama Birdman. If he wins Best Director again this year, it would set a record - no person has won that statuette back to back in more than 60 years.

Critics and fans might adore director Quentin Tarantino, but his latest work The Hateful Eight was snubbed in the Best Picture and Best Director categories. The Western figured only in the Original Score, Cinematography and Supporting Actress categories (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Singapore film 7 Letters did not make the cut for Best Foreign Language Film. To date, no film from here has made the shortlist since 2005, when Singapore began submissions.

Shut out of the Best Picture category as Pixar's critically animated feature Inside Out (which was, of course, nominated for Best Animated Feature Film). This happened despite there being only eight nominees this year, a number under the maximum of 10.

Johnny Depp was also snubbed for Best Actor despite his showy part as gangster Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.

The blockbuster Star Wars might be the highest grossing film of 2015, but its nods are mostly in the technical categories: Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.

But as Ms Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the body that runs the Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said when she visited Singapore last year, the Oscars are not a popularity contest.

She said: "What's unique about the Oscars is that the voting is done by film-makers."

The problem, many say, is not that the 7,000 voters are film- makers. It is that they are mostly male and overwhelmingly white and older, according to a 2014 report in the Los Angeles Times.

And these demographics create patterns, such as stocking the Best Picture and Best Director categories with little-seen prestige dramas, rather than mass-appeal movies.

That we have Mad Max: Fury Road running in the two prestige categories indicates that slowly, things might be changing.

The amount of change will be made clear on Feb 28, when the 88th edition of the Oscars takes place in Los Angeles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2016, with the headline 'Oscars: Too white and too old?'. Print Edition | Subscribe