Award shows snub artists of color in 2017 Oscars, Grammys

Kaya Blount, Staff Writer

Award show season is behind us, and it’s left many with a sour taste in their mouths. The 59th annual Grammy awards kicked off the festivities on Feb. 12. However, many viewers were not so impressed with the recipients of this year’s awards– most recipients were white, including Adele, who won album of the year against Beyonce’s highly-rated “Lemonade,” much to the despair of Beyonce fans. This has prompted consumers to ask if the Recording Academy has an issue with race, an allegation that goes back to the very beginning of the Grammy awards.

Only 10 black artists have ever won album of the year, if you only count Stevie Wonder once (he’s won three times). Ray Charles won posthumously in 2005, so he never received that honor in his lifetime. Most black artists win in the “urban” categories, such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” winning for Best Rap Song and Beyonce’s “Lemonade” winning Best Urban Contemporary Album.

This has been a major talking point in the conversation of prejudice and racial bias in award shows– black people being stereotypically labelled as urban is a common form of micro-aggressive bias toward African-Americans. It is a harmful generalization that continues to harm black people to this day, and many non-black people don’t realize that. The “Urban Contemporary” category isn’t even televised with the rest of the award show, those awards are presented at the pre-show, along with the other contemporary awards. The awards for jazz, religious, Latin and bluegrass albums are all presented at the pre-show as well.

The 89th Oscar awards took place Feb. 26 and it was a lot more diverse than it was last year, with “Moonlight” taking home the highest honor of the night, Academy Award for Best Picture. However, when you look at the nominees and those who won, it really wasn’t much different. Of the 20 actors and actresses nominated for various awards, only six are African-American and one, Dev Patel, is Indian. Of those seven, only two people won- Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis. On paper, this looks good- four categories, two white winners and two African-American winners.

However, when you take into consideration the fact that only seven African-Americans were nominated altogether, it puts it in a different light. Then, there’s the movie  “La La Land,” which won six Oscars,  despite the fact that many who saw the movie didn’t think it was that good.

Award shows have a history with coddling white mediocrity. We’ve seen it at the Video Music Awards with Taylor Swift and at the Golden Globes with Netflix’s The Crown.  A simple solution to these issues would be providing actors and actresses of color with three-dimensional, non-stereotypical, strong roles in terms of movies. This means no “dragon lady” roles for Asian women, no “sassy” roles for Black women, no “thug” roles for Black men and no “cheap” roles for people of the Jewish faith. Avoiding stereotypes is a very easy way of getting actors of color the roles they deserve– and, in turn, getting them the awards they deserve. The Grammys are no different—providing musicians of color with the exposure they require to make it big (such as uplifting local artists) just might result in them shining in the spotlight and inspiring other artists of color to pursue their dreams.