Maya Durham, Reporter

In 1939, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American person to win an Academy Award. This was a huge breakthrough for people of color in America, particularly in a time of Jim Crow laws.

Now, let’s fast forward to 2016. There are no Jim Crow laws in effect. We have a black president, and we’re supposed to be living in a time of racial equity and harmony. Yet when the nominations for this year’s Oscars were announced, there were only four people of color nominated for (semi)major awards: Abęl Tesfaye (The Weeknd) for Best Original Song (Fifty Shades of Grey), Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura for Best Animated Film (When Marnie Was There), and Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Directing (The Revenant). All 20 of the nominations for Best Actor/Actress (in a leading and in a supporting role) were white, and thousands of people took to social media to to talk about it, using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

Actors and actresses, both white and people of color, have announced that they are boycotting the 2016 Academy Awards because of the lack of diversity. Jada Pinkett Smith announced her boycott in a video released on Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday. She also released a thread of tweets, saying, “At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain. But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating altogether? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment.”

Multiculturalism is a key component of America and America’s history. From the Transcontinental Railroad to the Civil Rights Movement, people of color have played crucial roles in the development of this country. People of color are as American as anyone else, and we deserve equal representation in the media and awards shows. This is a problem that is much bigger than just this year’s awards show. In the past few years, there were a number of films highlighting the lives and challenges of people of color made. Films that featured incredible acting, plots, and cinematography, including Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Tangerine, and Dope. Films that should have gotten recognition from the Academy of Motion Pictures, but didn’t. Creed did receive a nomination, but it was for Sylvester Stallone, a white actor. In a movie centered around the life of a black man, with over half of the cast being people of color, the only person nominated for an Oscar was Caucasian.

The powerful performances and contributions of people of color throughout the years have been ignored, bashed, and ridiculed, and that needs to change. But how do we get the recognition we deserve? In the words of Jada Pinkett Smith, “Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking for it, diminishes dignity, and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people. And we are powerful, and let’s not forget it.”