THE BLOG

The Glass Ceiling

02/02/2016 18:46 GMT | Updated 01/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Back in November I penned an article about gender and pay in Hollywood. Since then, the Hollywood and diversity spotlight has moved back onto the issue of race.

In December, we witnessed a pivotal moment when Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to ever win an Emmy for 'Lead Actress in a Drama Series'. Upon her acceptance she said, 'Let me tell you something: the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.' She received a standing ovation.

There is no doubt that Viola was every bit deserving of the award for her stunning performance in 'How to Get Away With Murder', and I believe her choice to so selflessly bring up the race debate was an incredibly brave move.

A furore quickly began when little known soap star tweeted to say that the Emmys aren't an appropriate platform for race debates, saying 'I'm a f***ing actress for 40 yrs. None of us get respect or opportunity we deserve. Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity.' Stacy Dash has recently made similar statements about The Oscars debate, calling it 'ludicrous'. It baffles me that some individuals feel the need to dictate when and where crucial debates should take place.

Just weeks later, we are in the midst of a similar diversity imbroglio in which Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and others have boycotted The Oscars after all 20 Academy Award acting nominees in this years ceremony were white.

This, to me, seems to be a recurring issue that is in desperate need of resolution. With the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite taking Twitter by storm, let's take a brief look at the history to establish just how white these awards are. Over 88 years, the Academy Awards have given out 2,497 awards to various people for their achievements in film with tens of thousand of nominees. Yet only 66 black people have been nominated for acting awards with just 14 taking home the Oscar.

It has been almost 14-years since Halle Berry stood up as the first African-American woman in 74-years to win an Oscar. Whether you loved or loathed her emotional speech, it was a significant moment. Yarmouth her tears she said 'This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.'

Unfortunately, it would seem that the door was never truly opened. The fact that we're having this discussion 14-years on says so much about the inequality issue in Hollywood.

Over the past two years, no black actors or actresses have been nominated for Oscars. And over the past decade there has only been 18 black nominees, which amounts to just 9 percent of all acting nominees.

At a time when black roles in movies have arguably developed and movies like '12 years a slave' and 'Hotel Rwanda' often take cinemas by storm, the Oscars simply do not represent the presence, and talent of, black actors.

The tragedy here is that the issue is so much bigger than Hollywood. Black people are generally under represented through lack of opportunity across all industry. The situation for Afro-Caribbean actors in British cinema and media in general is dire.

When actress Hattie McDaniel became the first ever African American woman to win an Oscar in 1938 for Best Supporting Actress in 'Gone With the Wind', it was an enormous achievement. Despite the elation, the Oscars waited until 1963 before awarding Sydney Portier an award.

President Obama's inauguration gave us all the feeling that America was perhaps changing. Yet, the success of Donald Trump's campaign tells us a great deal about the American mindset; racism is very much alive and kicking.

African-Americans must have recognition through opportunity in the Oscars. The slow burn of what could be interpreted as tokenism in these awards is simply unacceptable in the modern age. Ticking boxes and tokenism only means that we will be constantly taking 'one step forward and two steps back'.

As Viola Davis so eloquently put it, 'You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there'. The same can be said in all areas of professionalism and academia. If the opportunities are not there and the environment is overbearingly racist, we will continuously keep hitting the same old glass ceiling no matter how talented, skilled or experienced we may be.

That, is not progress at all.

'In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can't seem to get there no-how. I can't seem to get over that line.' Harriet Tubman