Recently, there has been a tremendous amount of media attention focused on the need for more diversity in the Oscars. Some advocates have even gone so far as to call for affirmative action in the selection process. Affirmative action began as part of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and was intended to serve as a means for providing equal opportunities for minority groups in employment and education. President John F. Kennedy was the first person to actually use the term, when he signed an Executive Order forcing government contractors to utilize affirmative action to ensure that employees were treated fairly without regard to race, color, creed, or national origin.
Today, affirmative action has evolved into the use of quota systems by organizations and institutions for the purposes of making amends for past transgressions and improving opportunities for individuals who have historically been excluded. Regardless of the positive intent behind affirmative action, it has become the subject of significant debate over the years. In fact, multiple states have made the decision in recent years to discontinue the use of affirmative action policies, citing the fact that such policies often result in a form of reverse discrimination. The debate regarding affirmative action has also focused on concern that members of minority groups might actually be treated differently or even become stigmatized as a result of such policies.
In the 1920s, the Academy Awards were established for the purposes of honoring individual achievement in the motion picture industry. When the first awards ceremony was held in the spring of 1929, there was no surprise involved in regard to the identity of the winners. The names of the first Oscar winners had actually been announced several months prior to the ceremony.
Today, the Academy Awards has changed significantly, and we now face a firestorm of criticism regarding a lack of diversity in the awards selection process. Protests emerged following a second consecutive year in which all actors receiving nominations were white. In response, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released an announcement stating dramatic changes would be made to the recruiting process, voting requirements, and even the governing structure of the Academy, all with the goal of increasing membership diversity.
While the goal of implementing affirmative action for the purposes of increasing diversity is certainly admirable, a better approach might be to simply allow things to develop naturally. In reality, it is not only unfair but also offensive to vote for someone simply because of his or her race, just as it would be offensive to avoid voting for someone because of his or her race. The original purpose of the Academy Awards was to recognize individual achievement. By now saying that someone should be given a vote simply because he or she is a member of a minority group, regardless of their achievements, is actually more of a slap in the face to all of the individuals who have worked so hard to advance Civil Rights and ensure the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of color, race, creed, or national origin.