The difference between this year’s Grammys (Feb. 15) and Oscars (Feb. 28) is so stark you might call it black and white.
One features a diverse array of nominees in an eclectic range of musical genres. The other is hashtag so white.
Neither the Grammys nor the Oscars deserves the praise or blame for their inclusiveness (or lack thereof). Each awards show is honestly little more than an industry party. But what each represents is significant.
The Grammys this year show a music industry that highlights all types of talent and kinds of music, with artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, Chris Stapleton, Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd, D’Angelo, Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars and Alabama Shakes vying for the top awards.
The Oscars spotlight the problems of a movie industry with a lopsided interest in stories about white people, usually white men. Of the 20 acting nominees, there is not a single face of color.
In each instance, the issue is not what’s getting recognized so much as it is what’s getting made to begin with. Spike Lee has been one of the most vocal critics of this year’s Oscars, but he has also pointed out that the lack of diversity starts in the executive office. The Oscars are a symptom of a larger problem.
Still, the Academy has some diversity issues all its own. With a voting membership that is 93 percent white, it’s not surprising that films like “Creed,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “The Hateful Eight” and Lee’s own “Chi-Raq” were overlooked in categories where they stood a chance.
The Oscars have been blasted for lack of inclusion before, “but this year broke the camel’s back,” said Wheeler Winston Dixon, film studies professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Because it’s just a pattern that’s been going forward and forward and forward. And this year was just so egregious, so utterly incredible.”
This is in contrast to the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards. The SAG has a much larger membership (some estimates have it at around 160,000) and selected a much more diverse group of actors as its winners.
And though the Grammys are being praised for inclusion this year, it hasn’t always been that way. Just last year, only two artists in the four main Grammy categories were nonwhite, and the hip-hop world was abuzz with the nomination of Iggy Azalea, a white rapper from Australia, in the category of best rap album.
The Oscars backlash has been strong enough that the Academy’s Board of Governors has already voted for changes, new rules designed to double Academy diversity by 2020.
If nothing else, the whiteness of this year’s nominees has sparked a national conversation that goes beyond the Oscars.
“The response was immediate and overwhelming,” said Kwakiutl Dreher, associate professor of film studies at UNL. “This bodes well for the conversation of racial equity in the entertainment business. People across lines of race are talking about this.”
If “one single face of color” were in the roster, she said, the conversation might never have gotten started. “But it’s so blatantly apparent, you have to talk about it.”
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How the Grammys work
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 15 on CBS
Host: LL Cool J
Number of awards: 83
Percentage of minorities in top four categories (record, album and song of the year and best new artist): 41 percent
First ceremony: May 4, 1959
Voting body: The Recording Academy
2015 viewership: 25.3 million
Voting members: about 13,000
Voter makeup: Undisclosed by the academy
How voting for the nominees works: To be nominated, releases must first be submitted to the Recording Academy, which then verifies if the music meets eligibility requirements. For this year’s awards, music must have been released between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015. More than 21,000 submissions were entered this year.
At least 51 percent of an album must be representative of a genre in order to be considered in a genre’s award categories.
There are two rounds of nominations voting. First, voting members cast ballots for their favorites in all but five categories. A second round takes place in secret review committees that take the top 20 or so vote-getters in each category and pick the final five nominees.
How voting for the winners works: Once Grammy nominations are announced, all voting members can cast ballots for any category they please. Every voting member can cast ballots for the four main categories and then their choice of 20 more categories. The Recording Academy encourages voters to contain votes to their areas of expertise, and they say most ballots don’t use all 20 possible votes. Voting for this year’s ceremony closed on Jan. 15.
How to become a member: You can become a member by being nominated for a Grammy within the last five years. Otherwise, voting members must have a certain number of credits on recordings released in the United States (six songs released physically or 12 released digitally). The credit can be as a performer, songwriter, engineer or any number of other credits (even as writer of liner notes). The Recording Academy reviews and approves each application. Members pay a $100 fee every year.
Recent changes: In 2012, the Grammys reduced the number of award categories from 109 to 78. Some categories, including zydeco and various jazz categories, were eliminated altogether while some were combined. Category titles have been adjusted and more have been replaced and added since then. Changes are reviewed each year by the Awards & Nominations Committee, but final approval for changes comes from the Academy’s trustees.
Final word on the Grammys:
Scott Anderson, who teaches a course on rock ’n’ roll history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, thinks the Grammys are relevant — but only to a point.
Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” never won a Grammy, but Anderson bought it anyway. (And it’s No. 9 on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest albums ever.)
“The idea of applying competition to art, and music in particular, leaves me cold,” he said.
Anderson wondered if people will remember David Bowie and Glenn Frey, who both died recently, more for albums like “Hunky Dory” and “Hotel California” or for winning Grammys.
“I know my answer to that question,” he said.
How the Oscars work
When: 6 p.m. Feb. 28 on ABC
Host: Chris Rock
Number of awards: 24, not including the scientific and technical awards
Percentage of nonwhite nominees in top five categories (best actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress and director): 4 percent
First ceremony: May 16, 1929
Voting body: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
2015 viewership: 36.6 million
Voting members: 6,261
Voter makeup: Average age 63, 93 percent white, 76 percent male
How voting for the nominees works: Academy members vote for nominees in their respective fields — actors for actors, writers for writers, etc. — but all members are allowed to make their picks for best picture. Multi-branch committees vote for nominees in the animated feature film and foreign-language film categories.
How voting for the winners works: All members vote in all categories. In some categories, however — animated short film, live-action short film, documentary short subject, documentary feature and foreign-language film — members must have seen all the nominated films in order to vote. Voting for this year’s ceremony closes on Feb. 23.
How to become a member: Candidates must be sponsored by at least two Academy members from their respective branches to be considered for membership. Nominees are automatically considered for membership without sponsors. The Academy’s Board of Governors makes the final decision on who receives an invitation.
Other requirements: Writers, producers and directors need at least two screen credits to be considered for membership; actors must have had three film roles in the past five years; requirements for those in technical branches vary based on the field. However, a lack of these requirements can be overlooked if considered members have been nominated for an Oscar or if they have “achieved unique distinction.”
Recent changes: Starting later this year, new members’ voting status will now last 10 years and will be renewed if a member has been active in movies during that decade. Members who have been active during three 10-year terms or who have won or been nominated for an Academy Award will receive lifetime voting rights. The new rules, along with a plan to recruit more members, is an effort to increase diversity in the voting membership. The hope is to double the percentage of nonwhite and female voting members by 2020.
The most recent big change before this: When the Academy doubled the number of best picture nominees from five to 10 in 2009, prompted somewhat by the snubbing of “The Dark Knight” and “WALL-E.” The rule was later amended to allow for between five and 10 best picture nominees.
Final word on the Oscars:
“I think people really need to put the Oscars into focus,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln film professor Wheeler Winston Dixon.
“It’s an industry event that’s voted on only by industry people. It is simply a marketing tool for Hollywood films. No critics get to vote. No audience members get to vote.”
Dixon will not be watching the Oscars.