In 2014, the Motion Picture Academy recognized 12 Years a Slave and its star Lupita Nyong'o in the Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress categories. That was an anomaly.
On Sunday, one year later, the Oscars, by virtue of the nominations doled out, have guaranteed that the winning actors will all be white, and that the best director and screenwriter will be men. No women were nominated in either category.
"For me, this year was business as usual. It's unusual when you get get lots of diversity at the Oscars," Dr. Darnell Hunt, a professor of sociology and director of UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies told me. "It all comes down to the same basic structural issue — I think you need to come up with another way."
For Hunt, the all-white acting categories, the snubbing of Selma director Ava DuVernay, and the omission of Gone Girl screenwriter Gillian Flynn, are symptoms of a bigger problem — an industry still dominated by older white men that is immune to change.
And that doesn't apply solely to older, pre-existing members. It applies to new voters as well. In 2014, the Academy invited a new class of voters — approximately 72 percent were men, 90 percent were white. Non-white women represented just five of the 245 people we analyzed (out of 271 total new invitees).
Those are staggering numbers, not only because they're in complete ignorance of what America's current complexion looks like (40 percent non-white) but also because they represent no change from the status quo. It's as if the Academy responded to complaints about diversity by covering its ears and looking the other way. And it's the reason you have years like 2015.
"We're talking about structural racism, not individual level. It's a structure that reproduces outcomes because of the people who occupy those positions of power," Hunt said. "It's not that there is a lack of political open-mindedness in members like actors. Structure does matter. In this case, structure is overriding."
Hunt explains that every level of movie-making is dominated by white men. From the nascent beginnings of a film when its greenlit, the funding that pays for it, to the marketing and distribution — white men are almost always the ones making the decisions. Couple that with the lack of diversity in the people rewarding these films, and Oscars going to the same stories about white men, and you have a perpetual wheel where white men are forever the gatekeepers of an industry.
This isn't to say that the movies nominated for Oscars are terrible — they're not. This isn't a question about value. It's about other films that may be just as good never getting a shot or even off the ground.
"A year like this year, which honored mostly white males in the writing and directing categories, is so much more embarrassing because the diverse amount of success stories that are looming large in spite of their choices." Sasha Stone of Awards Daily told me.
Stone has extensively covered the Oscars for the past 16 years.
"They don't do this because they are racist or sexists — they are merely responding to stories that appeal to their tastes," Stone told me. "If 90 percent of the membership is white they are going to respond to films about white characters more because they can personally relate to those stories."
What helps keep the wheel spinning is that gaining entry into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is very difficult. You get in by earning an Oscar nomination or a recommendation from an existing member. That process makes it hard to change the culture and diversity of the Academy.
"I can guarantee you. If the membership were different, the nominees would look different," Hunt said. "But because of the way the process works, it'll be 2150 before we get anywhere."