Culture, Film

Notes on Latino Lack of Diversity in Hollywood and Selma Omissions

If you are Latino and have followed both the Golden Globes award ceremony and Academy Award nominations, then you might be celebrating eight Oscar nominations in several major categories or an unexpected win (and incredible speech) by Gina Rodriguez two weeks ago…down goes Dunham, down goes Dunham! By now you should have also come across articles criticizing the lack of diversity this year at the Oscars; more specifically, the meager two nominations for a critically acclaimed film like Selma…this after 12 Years A Slave won three Academy Awards last year, including nine nominations. Selma only received two nominations: one for Best Picture, which is also the most crowded and contested of all the major categories; and another for Best Original Song. But let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment, “Glory” is a really terrible song; it almost ruins the experience as you’re leaving the theater. So I interpret the nomination as a sarcastic gesture to say the least.

Taking a few steps back always comes with its distractions. This year, you have Birdman receiving nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Very cool, right? (This is where it starts) Next you have an Argentinian film, Relatos Salvajes, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. This is probably the category where the establishment has the least to lose and Latinos have the least to gain. It’s where it belongs (it’s in Spanish, no?), which basically makes it a draw. Salt of the Earth is a French-Brazilian documentary that is more of a portrait of an individual who happens to be a Brazilian photographer and journalist. La Parka, which is nominated for Best Documentary Short, is the closest thing to a Latin American narrative–though we’ve already strayed from the major categories at this point. Otherwise, these nominations are mostly a byproduct of Latinos (predominantly white Latinos) working through the industry. It’s just a happy coincidence that a Mexican filmmaker directs Michael Keaton in the comeback role of the year.

This is another way of saying that the Academy lacks diversity. Latinos aren’t really being nominated for being Latino; it’s just the de facto acknowledgement of anyone that can be considered Latino.

Maybe that’s why Gina Rodriguez’s award meant so much. Without really having any expectations, Latinos were recognized for having a story to tell. It’s not necessarily a bad thing or a selfish thing. We just have to keep things in perspective. How and where we look for validation. Whereas recent films like 12 Years A Slave, Dear White People, Fruitvale, and now Selma are being recognized for both artistic merit and commercial appeal; they are also broadening our perceptions of black culture, history, and identity. So when they are ignored by the establishment, organizations like the Academy are not just rejecting black actors or black filmmakers; they are ignoring the black experience, the black narrative. So then what do eight pseudo-nominations mean for Latinos when there’s nothing really at stake in terms of narrative or identity? And what do we really want to contribute to this conversation when it comes to a lack of diversity?