#OscarsSoWhite has taken the Internet by storm, and for good reason. This year's Academy Award nominations don't reflect the best in cinema over the past year as much as they do the worst effects of systemic racism in Hollywood. It's a problem that can be traced all the way back to who's making the decisions about what gets made and the lack of diverse voices greenlighting projects.
That's one reason why the success of Straight Outta Compton was such a landmark moment in modern cinema history. The N.W.A. biopic defied the odds to become both a box office smash, earning $160 million, and a critical darling. Believe us when we say no executive in Hollywood saw that coming.
Straight Outta Compton won awards by the Producers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild, plus a best-of-the-year citation from the American Film Institute, so what happened when it came to the Oscars?
Like the only other nominated film featuring Black talent — Creed — Straight Outta Compton was only recognized for the contributions made by the white people who worked on the film (writers Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman).
So why was Straight Outta Compton not recognized for its music, editing, acting or included among the Best Picture nominees, even though only eight of the possible 10 slots were filled? The consensus seems to blame the overwhelmingly old, white and male voting body of the Academy, who by their own admission didn't even watch Compton.
We're not just speculating, here — several members of the Academy confirmed that, though the film was one of the best music biopics ever made (one compared it to Milos Forman's Oscar-winning classic Amadeus), there were "many members who wouldn’t even see the film because it represented a culture that they detest or, more accurately, they assume they detest."
There's a reason that those who bought N.W.A.'s debut album in the '90s were taking their kids to see Straight Outta Compton in 2016. The film reminded us of the triumph of creativity over oppression and the power of language to spark a revolution. Compton worked because every actor was top-notch, and F. Gary Gray's direction went beyond a boilerplate biopic and touched a nerve. Or, rather, millions of nerves. Films are meant to transport you to a different time, a new way of thinking or into an experience you would never have for yourself. If the old, white dudes of the Academy — many of whom were inducted in the '60s and '70s, the last time the organization recognized the need to bring in young, fresh blood — took the time to watch this excellent film, they might realize they have more in common with it than they expected.
Hopefully, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs will make good on her promise to initiate "drastic change" among the voting body that decides who gets recognized for Hollywood's top prize so that films like Straight Outta Compton have a chance. If not, we'll be dusting off #OscarsSoWhite for many years to come.
Watch a recap of the controversy with BET Breaks below:
(Photo: Jaimie Trueblood/Universal Pictures)