Oscars Season: Representation in film for black and queer characters

Kimmy Daniels Reporter


One percent of actors nominated for an Oscar this year are people of color. After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in 2015 and 2016, nominations have yet to become more diverse.

Interest in the Academy Awards continues to decrease, especially for people who do not feel represented, junior physics major Kaitlyn Ruffin said. 

“The movies I appreciate are not appreciated there,” she said. “I wish people talked about movies like Hidden Figures and movies with diversity.”

2015 was the first year since 1998 that no people of color were nominated in the lead and supporting characters categories. Ruffin described not being able to see herself represented in movies as “a struggle.”

“We all want to see ourselves reflected, even little kids claim which color Power Ranger they want to be,” Ruffin said. “You want to connect. It’s human nature.”

As a black, queer woman in STEM, Ruffin said she does not feel represented in multiple intersections of her life. She reflected on The Big Bang Theory, a show with no black actors, and a gay lead actor who portrays a straight man.

“It’s one of the most popular TV shows, and there are no black people,” she said. “One of the lead actors is gay, and his character isn’t. There’s a lot of intersectionalities that are ignored.”

Junior Arabic translation major Kevin Hull echoed this statement and pointed out that Neil Patrick Harris’ character on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother is straight, even though Harris is openly gay. 

Sophomore visual communication design major Marcus Molina said what frustrates him the most is when straight actors play LGBTQ+ characters.

“What is the point of putting the character in the TV show if you are not using actual representation?” Molina said.

 He said it is not always the actor’s fault because they are trying to make money, but the issue does fall on the directors and casting directors.

“All they’re doing is silencing the people who should be playing those characters, and the people who should be represented within themselves,” Molina said. “At that point, they’re suppressing people for who they are and diluting them into less of a person.”

Ruffin reflected on the show Pretty Little Liars, where a straight actress, Shay Mitchell, portrayed a bisexual character, and a bisexual actress, Ashley Benson, portrayed a straight character. 

“Shay couldn’t come out about her sexuality, because the world was seeing her as this queer icon and she wasn’t,” said Ruffin, “And that could’ve been Ashley.”

In the same sense, it is not uncommon for white actors to play characters of color. Actress Angelia Jolie is known for being cast in roles made for people of color, like in A Mighty Heart and Cleopatra. 

In 2016, the academy responded to backlash by saying they will have a more diverse playing field by 2020. Cynthia Erivio is the only person of color nominated in this year’s acting categories for her role as Harriet Tubman in the biopic Harriet.

“When you want to connect, but you can’t, it makes you feel like something is wrong with you,” said Ruffin. 

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