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banner Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 18:04 GMT
Hollywood 'discrimination' under attack
Nominees Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Will Smith
Washington, Berry and Smith are rare black nominees in the top acting categories
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By BBC News Online's Darren Waters
line

With two black performers nominated for best actor and an honorary award being handed to Sidney Poitier, the first black star to win a best actor Oscar, one would be forgiven for thinking the Academy Awards 2002 is a colour-blind affair.

Add Halle Berry's nomination for her excellent performance in Monster's Ball to the mix and it is surely a case of egalitarian handshakes all round.

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier: The first black artist to win a best actor Oscar

But the feeling persists among many observers that the Oscars, and Hollywood itself, remains entrenched in the past.

It is 30 years since three black performers were last nominated in the same year for the major acting Oscars.

Whether this year is a turning point or watershed, only time will tell, but many feel there is a great deal of work still to be done.

Anonymous

Walk around Hollywood and the area is festooned with posters for this year's Academy Awards, all displaying images of the unmistakeable Oscar himself.

But one is different. One 50-foot-poster shows a slightly overweight, balding, white man with his hands strategically placed over his private parts.


Discrimination exists everywhere but people of different ethnic groups have made bigger gains in other areas than Hollywood

Kathe Kollwitz, spokesperson for the Guerrilla Girls

"The anatomically correct Oscar," the billboard reads, adding: "He's white and male, just like the guys who win."

The poster is the work of campaign group, the Guerrilla Girls, a loose collective of women artists, performers, film-makers, and writers who work to raise awareness of discrimination in culture and politics.

"All of our research shows that the film industry, which likes to think of itself as cool and forward-thinking, actually lags way behind other parts of society in employing women and people of colour in the top positions," says Kathe Kollwitz, a spokeswoman for the group, who is using a pseudonym as all the members are anonymous.

'Quotas'

According to the billboard, only 3% of acting awards have ever gone to "people of colour", while 94% of writing awards have gone to men and the best director award has never been awarded to a woman.

"We try to do it with humour and creative use of statistics," Ms Kollwitz adds.

"We don't believe in quotas but we do complain when the numbers are low, low, low."

The Guerrilla Girls' research shows that:

  • 7% of last year's top films were directed by women
  • 2% of films have female cinematographers
  • 13% of films have women writers
  • 13% of films have women editors
  • In total, women make up 17% of studios' workforce

    "In this day and age when women are doing all kinds of great things that is not acceptable," Ms Kollwitz says.

    "Discrimination exists everywhere but people of different ethnic groups have made bigger gains in other areas than Hollywood," she adds.

    Supportive

    The group hopes the billboard will make an impact as the world's press and the biggest names in film-making gather for the Academy Awards.

    "The billboard is right in Hollywood - the people we want to reach will see it.

    Oscars posters
    Posters around Hollywood: The Guerrilla Girls' billboard is in stark contrast to the rest

    "There is so much positive press around the Oscars - the gowns, the stars - that we decided it was time for another point of view."

    The reaction so far from Hollywood has been supportive, surprising the campaign.

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has even backed the message of the group.

    The billboard will remain up for a month but the group has other plans for the Oscars, including putting up stickers of the "anatomically-correct" Oscar in the toilets of the Kodak Theatre, the venue for the Academy Awards.

    If Denzel Washington, Will Smith or Halle Berry walk off with an award on Sunday they might just be inclined to scale back their protests.

    The Oscars ceremony is broadcast live on BBC Two on Monday 25 March from 0045-0500 GMT and reported live on BBC News Online.

  • See also:

    12 Mar 02 | Oscars 2002
    UK Oscar stars party on
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