6 Oscar Snubs of Minority Films

From "Selma" to "The Joy Luck Club" and #OscarsSoWhite

Beyond the Lights Movie Poster
Relativity Media

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a reputation for snubbing all sorts of movies, including comedies and horror films. However, in the 21st century, it has faced growing criticism for overlooking films with directors of color or casts made almost entirely of minority actors.

While this is not an exhaustive list of snubs, it highlights a half-dozen such films that critics say deserved Oscar recognition.

#OscarsSoWhite (2015 and 2016)

No single movie received a snub in 2015 and 2016. Instead, the Oscar nominations for lead and supporting roles for both years were filled completely with white actors. This had not been seen since 1998.

It sparked the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and though it started in 2015, it really got the spotlight in 2016. Among the movies that shocked everyone the most in 2016 were "Beasts of No Nation," "Creed," and "Straight Outta Compton." All were considered brilliant films and included amazing, critically-acclaimed performances.

The film snub that was most surprising, and which was completely left out of the nominations, was "Beasts of No Nation." Countless critics proclaimed that actor, Idris Elba, deserved a nomination for the best supporting actor, especially after winning the Screen Actors Guild Award and receiving BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. Many people also felt that the film's director, Cary Fukunaga (who is half-Japanese) deserved an honor as well.

Michael B. Jordan also received a snub for his role in "Creed" and the African American cast of "Straight Outta Compton" were also passed over. This was not the first snub for the director of "Creed," Ryan Coogler, who's acclaimed 2013 film "Fruitvale" was also passed by. To add fuel to the fire, Sylvester Stallone received the supporting actor nomination and the screenwriters for "Creed" were nominated as well. They are all white.

The outrage in 2016 led Jada Pinkett to call for a boycott of the ceremony. While some said it was partially because her husband, Will Smith, didn't receive a nomination for "Concussion," the couple (and many others) refuted this claim.

In an attempt to right this wrong, the Academy has diversified its panel of judges in the years since. The 2017 and 2018 nominations were noticeably more diverse, but the minority representation continued to be lacking and the conversation has continued.

“Selma” (2014)

Although the Academy nominated “Selma” for best picture, it failed to give director Ava DuVernay a best director nod. Had the Academy done so, DuVernay would have been the first black woman to receive such an Oscar honor.

The New York Times’ David Carr said the oversight from the Academy was significant because DuVernay managed to get “studio backing to make a movie that is great cinema, not a history lesson.” He suggested that the Academy likely slighted the film because the studio, Paramount, did not begin to market it as an Oscar contender until late in the awards season.

“The movie was completed near the end of the year, and the screeners came late and somewhat sporadically...Perhaps that partly explains why ‘Selma,’ which was second to ‘Boyhood’ in critical acclaim as measured by Metacritic, received just two nominations, for best picture and best song.”

“Beyond the Lights” (2014)

New York Times’ film critic Manohla Dargis included Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “Beyond the Lights” on her list of best films of 2014. Beyond that, she also said the film about a biracial pop singer’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) existential crisis was “superior to several [Oscar] titles in contention, including ‘The Theory of Everything,’ the banal, sentimentalized and the tear-jerking biopic of Stephen Hawking.”

That movie went on to win Eddie Redmayne an Oscar for best actor and nominations for best picture, writing, actress, and music. Other than an Academy Award nomination for the best original song, however, “Beyond the Lights” found itself shut out.

The Academy excluded the film, which Dargis compared to Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother,” in spite of strong critical reviews. Dargis pointed out how it took Prince-Bythewood years to make the film simply because she wanted both leads to be black.

Dargis raised the possibility that racism may have prevented the movie from doing as well in theaters as it should have. She also suggested that the fact it had a female protagonist likely hurt its chances with the Academy.

“When male weepies [like “The Theory of Everything”] stir up strong emotions it affirms their potency; when female weepies do it’s just embarrassing,” she said of the Academy.

“Fruitvale Station” (2013)

Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut about the last day of police killing victim Oscar Grant’s life wowed critics. It racked up a number of honors on the festival circuit, most notably the Audience Award and a Grand Jury Prize for Drama at the Sundance Film Festival. Yet, the Golden Globes ignored the film, as did the Oscars.

Entertainment Weekly’s Samantha Highfill said that the fact the film opened in July, five months before Oscar contenders typically come out, hurt its chances. But Highfill included the film in the ranks of the most brilliant that have been snubbed by the Oscars.

“Coogler took what could have been a very dramatic story and dropped any notions of dramatization or subjectivity...He simply told a story. The viewers followed Grant through his final 24 hours, from picking his daughter up from school to grabbing groceries for dinner. …Fruitvale allowed the viewer to get to know Grant, not as a good guy, not as a bad guy, but just as a guy. …You could love him, or you could hate him. Coogler wasn’t about to try and influence that. All he wanted to do was capture the emotions and the events of that night, and that’s precisely why the film left such an impact.”

Entertainment Weekly was far from the only publication to cover the Academy’s snub of “Fruitvale.” Slate, GQ, and the San Jose Mercury News also lamented the movie’s lack of nominations.

“Eve’s Bayou” (1997)

Roger Ebert praised Kasi Lemmons’ directorial debut, a period film about a black Louisiana family in crisis due to the father’s infidelity and the daughter’s psychic abilities. “Eve’s Bayou” stars gifted actors such as Samuel Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, Jurnee Smollett, and Diahann Carroll. Yet, their collective theatrical chops did not earn the powerful film recognition.

Ebert called it one of the year’s best and marveled at Lemmons’ ability to set it “in the bayous and old Louisiana traditions that Tennessee Williams might have been familiar with, but in tone and style …of Ingmar Bergman.” He enjoyed the film so much he saw it two more times after the first viewing.

“If it is not nominated for Academy Awards, then the academy is not paying attentione...For the viewer, it is a reminder that sometimes films can venture into the realms of poetry and dreams.”

Evidently, the Academy wasn’t paying attention because “Eve’s Bayou” didn’t get a single Oscar nomination. British newspaper the Daily Telegraph would later include the movie on its list of the top 20 films without Academy Awards.

“The Joy Luck Club” (1993)

Critics found it puzzling in 1994 when the Academy failed to give Wayne Wang’s “The Joy Luck Club” any Oscar nominations. Although the film, based on Amy Tan’s novel of the same name, received a best-adapted screenplay nod from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, it evidently underwhelmed Oscar voters.

The snub of this moving film about a group of Chinese women and their American-raised daughters shocked Roger Ebert.

“Another thing that sort of surprised me was the complete shut out of the ‘Joy Luck Club,’ which when it was released… was considered a shoo-in for the best picture nomination as well as for mentions in the acting, writing and directing categories,” Ebert said in 1994. “The movie was not only a critical success, it was a box office success as well with a gross of over $32 million, and it only cost about $12 million to make. Audiences were deeply moved by its interlocking stories of the hard early lives of four Chinese American women.”

Ebert wasn’t the only critic shocked that the Academy overlooked “Joy Luck Club.” Judy Brennan discussed the oversight in the L.A. Times. “Other writers most noticeably ignored were Amy Tan and Ron Bass for ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ another favorite with critics that was also nominated by the Writers Guild,” she wrote.

“Do the Right Thing” (1989)

Spike Lee’s provocative film about racial tensions in Brooklyn won the outspoken director a number of accolades, including Golden Globe nods for best picture, best director, best screenplay, and best supporting actor for Danny Aiello. However, when the Oscar nominations rolled around, “Do the Right Thing” only received nods for its screenplay and supporting actor.

Decades later, fans and critics still remember the slight. The Guardian pointed out in 2015 how the snub of the film is largely deemed “one of the most glaring in Academy history.” That’s because the movie routinely lands spots on greatest films of all time lists. Also, in 1999, it “was preserved by the US Congress National Film Registry as a 'culturally significant' example of 20th-century film-making,” The Guardian noted.

In 2015, the Academy gave Lee an honorary Oscar for his achievements in cinema. That hardly seemed to appease the filmmaker who joined the 2016 boycott of the ceremony because of its lack of minority nominees.