The diversity gap at the Academy Awards: Few black winners in award show's 85-year history

theGRIO REPORT - The Oscars air Sunday and according to research, striking information highlights the diversity gap in the Academy Awards since it first formed in 1927...

The biggest night in Hollywood is set to take place this Sunday as the 86th Academy Awards honor the most distinguished individuals in the film industry.

The night also marks the 75th anniversary of Hattie McDaniel taking home the Oscar for best supporting actress in Gone with the Wind – becoming the first African-American in history to win an Academy Award.

However, in the 85 years since the academy was first established, few other African-Americans have been recognized or won.

Infographic breaks down the diversity gap 

According to research conducted by Lee & Low books, striking information highlights the diversity gap in the Academy Awards since it first formed in 1927.

Since its inception, the academy has been dominated by whites males. Overall, the academy consists of  6,000-plus nominated film industry veterans while active members cast votes to determine annual nominees and winners.

Currently, according to Lee & Low, that voting pool is 94 percent white. Of the remaining 6 percent, research shows that 2 percent of the academy is black, less than 2 percent is Latino and less than 1 percent is Asian and Native American.

As for the diversity – or lack thereof – of Oscar winners, only one person of color as ever been awarded the best actress title and that recognition went to Halle Berry in 2002 for her role in Monster’s Ball.

For the best actor category, only 7 percent of the winners have been minority members including Sidney Poitier (1963), Ben Kingsley (1982), Denzel Washington (2001), Jamie Foxx (2004) and Forest Whitaker (2006).

More nominees, higher chances of winning this year

However, despite the lack of black representation among both Academy members and award winners, the pool of nominees this year offers a promising night for black film and actors.

“The number of nominees for the people of color this year is above the average so I hope some will win and up the numbers,” Hannah Ehrlich, the Director of Marketing & Publicity for Lee & Low, told theGrio.

This year also marks the first time the academy has elected an African-American president and its third woman in its 86 years.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who was recognized as a member of theGrio 100 this year, is at the helm of the prestigious organization.

However, despite her election to leading position, she understands that diversifying the academy won’t be a quick fix.

Boone Isaacs also recognizes that the films that debuted this year offer a range of talent and tell a variety of stories that add to the industry’s cultural fabric, telling Reuters that there are “quite a few films that give us a different voice, a more diverse voice.”

Black actors up for Oscar nods this year

Up for Oscar nods this year are Chiwetel Ejiofor (best actor nominee for 12 years a Slave), Lupita Nyong’o (best supporting actress for 12 Years a Slave) Barkhad Abdi (best supporting actor for Captain Phillips) and Steve McQueen (best director for 12 Years a Slave).

12 Years a Slave is also both nominated for best picture — and if McQueen’s film wins in his category, it will be the first time in history that a black director has taken home that coveted award.

The infographic released by Lee & Low is part of their initiative to foster further concentration on the importance of diversity. They have conducted similar research and highlighted their finding in infographics for other big-name award shows including the Emmy and Tony Awards.

“The diversity gap makes people aware of the lack of people of color in publishing, movies, TV and all across the board,” Ehrlich said. “We’re always trying to get people more aware and better understand[ing].”

Click the infographic below to view a large-scale version of the image.

Follow Lilly Workneh on Twitter @Lilly_Works