The Discriminatory Bias of Award Shows

The major award shows of the entertainment industry are plagued with racial and gender biases that skew the actors and artists who get nominated and awarded.

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You probably remember sitting on your couch watching the national broadcast of the Academy Awards or the Grammys, where hundreds of artists and actors get nominated each year. A thrill rushes through you as you’re rooted in your seat, suspensefully waiting for the nominees to be called. The envelope opens, and to your surprise, you don’t hear the name you and the entire rest of the world were expecting. A white man walks on stage to claim the award, instead of whom you believed to be the rightful winner.

For years, there has been racial bias in award shows, limiting the diversity of winners. Many viewers tune in to major award shows like the Grammys, the Golden Globes, and the Oscars to see big names in the entertainment industry awarded for being the best actor or having the best album. However, it seems like being the best takes into account not only talent and skill, but also race and gender.

The bias toward choosing white nominees has been an ongoing pattern with these award shows. At the 2017 Grammy Awards, despite the widely acclaimed album Beyoncé had released that year, “Lemonade,” Adele was given the Grammy for the Album of the Year. Adele received another four Grammys that night, while Beyoncé only won Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Music Video. Despite being one of the most acclaimed award shows in the world, the Grammys have heavy biases toward white nominees as opposed to their Black counterparts, just like many other famous award shows.

The Oscars have also continued their long-standing racial bias in selecting award winners. Miyoshi Umeki is one of the only Asians to have ever won an acting Oscar. Even nominations of non-white actors are rare. Only five Latina women have ever been nominated for Best Actress, and Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed are the first Asian-American and Muslim actors, respectively, to be nominated for Best Actor. In fact, 98.9 percent of the winners for Best Actress and 93.2 percent of the winners for Best Actor from 1928 to 2015 have been white.

One of the most prominent ways that artists and actors have been fighting against this racial bias is through boycotts. The Weeknd is one such singer who declared this action after noticing that in the last 61 years of the Grammys, only 10 African American artists have won Album of the Year. In response to the Weeknd’s boycott, the Grammys eliminated their “secret” nomination committee, which likely played a large role in the discrimination against Black artists, in 2021. Other figures in the Black filmmaking community, such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, spoke out about the Oscars’ race problem by boycotting the awards. Another interesting initiative was the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that stormed Twitter in 2015. The campaign centered around the clear marginalization of non-white actors at the Oscars and spearheaded massive recognition of the issue. In response to the giant wave of criticism, the Oscars announced that they would set goals to increase the diversity of their actor and filmmaker nominations. The Academy board stated in 2020 that they had excelled with their plan, with 36 percent of their nominees coming from underrepresented groups and 49 percent from other countries.

The bias carried by these award shows is not limited to race. It also extends to gender. The Oscars have historically had a discriminatory bias against women. Since 1929, when the first Academy Awards were handed out, only 14 percent of nominations have been women. The most prestigious award of the Oscars, the award for Best Director, has had 449 nominations since its beginnings, with only five of those going to women. This year, though there has been some improvement, only 28 percent of Oscar nominees were women. The music awards, another major category of the Oscars, have had 1,238 nominees, with women only making up 1.6 percent of them. The gender discrimination in these televised award shows has been present since the very beginning, and even now, not much has changed.

Unlike the giant response to the racial discrimination in these award shows, there hasn’t been much effort taken to eradicate gender bias. In order to fight this bias, women can boycott these awards. Boycotting has been successful with the Black entertainment community, boasting many changes to lessen discriminatory nominations. This issue can be brought to light through boycotts by prominent female artists and entertainers, allowing the public to get involved in the protest. Female artists can also post writings on their social media, which will further garner publicity for the issue and may push these award shows to change their nomination strategies to include more women nominees.

If we don’t recognize the minorities who are being discriminated against, our entertainment will never grow with fresh minds and brimming talent who are being rejected solely for their race and gender. This effect can discourage minority groups from trying to enter the entertainment industry, as they are not seeing any of their own being recognized for their accomplishments. Though the major entertainment awards of Hollywood have been going on for almost 100 years now, they’re still plagued with racial and gender biases that don’t allow us to celebrate artists who truly deserve to be awarded. These award shows have to push their historic bias aside before the true best are discriminated out of existence.