Opportunity Gap: Where are the Oscar Worthy Roles for Black Women?

Originally Published on Torri Oats' Medium page

Quick! Name a black actress who is a contender for a Best Actress Oscar nomination this year!

While listening to one of my favorite film podcasts, one of the hosts recalled a Twitter conversation he had with a listener who mentioned potential nominees. Between them, they listed about 15 actresses that were among the likes of Cate Blanchett, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence, Alicia Vikander and Brie Larson; just to name a few. None of them were a woman of color. The host was clearly excited, but I was saddened.

Most films I’ve watched with at least one woman of color have the same negatively reinforced, cookie cutter lead. Unfortunately, they are familiar because they are archetypes I’ve seen repeatedly. I’m still working my way through a very long list of films, and I haven’t watched every film with a woman of color in the lead role, but it doesn’t look promising. This year’s film slate is further proof that studios do not value films starring complex, three dimensional people of color.

A report entitled, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2014 by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, calculated that 12% of protagonists were women. Of that, 23% were women of color. In short, if there were 100 leading roles, 12 would go to Caucasian women, and 2.5 would go to women of color.

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