From the moment that the 2016 Oscar Nominations were made official, the lack of diversity amongst the chosen few put forward for the prestigious awards has rightly commanded plenty of column inches across global media.
Come this Sunday evening, all eyes will once again be on Hollywood's pinnacle showcase to see who are crowned as the recognised elite of the industry, but the worrying and stark fact that no black or minority actors have been nominated in the four acting categories will undoubtedly remain the talking point, regardless of who is championed on the night.
Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee have been leading the outcry and publicly spoken of their decision to boycott the ceremony, but it remains to be seen if any real impact will be made. In my opinion, the issue of race within the arts is a much more fundamental mindset problem that urgently requires a shift to be dragged into the 21st Century.
Firstly, I'd like to get on record that the sheer nature of awards voting in any industry, means that controversy is always likely to be brought up from time to time, and opinion is going to be divided regardless of who gets the nomination or the award.
Failing to be recognised for outstanding work in the industry isn't a problem solely experienced by minority artists, as I'm sure Leonardo DiCaprio fans will be quick to point out, but this year's lack of recognition across the board is not only a reflection of a disappointing state of affairs, but runs the risk of disheartening future generations of talent from following their dream careers.
In my experience the issue of race within performing arts isn't such a straightforward issue as minority actors not being recognised for their talent, but a wider-ranging issue that colour seems to play a part in all aspects of an industry that is simply being left behind the times.
The arts have such a huge influence over the world culturally; that it's so sad to think that colour comes into question at all, but regrettably we seemingly haven't reached a stage whereby race, religion and sexuality are irrelevant.
In a world where Barack Obama can be elected to be the most powerful leader in the world as a man of dual heritage, it seems bizarre for us not to be able to grasp the concept of a non-white actor being suitable for any role, purely down to their ethnicity. However, when Idris Elba went public on his desire to take over the character of James Bond after Daniel Craig, the sheer concept of a black actor playing what has always traditionally been a white role (albeit fictional) was beyond comprehension for a lot of people and sparked a huge debate.
A reluctance for a colour-blind approach to casting is unfortunately a common trait that goes across the board, on all levels within the industry. As a talent agent myself, tasked with securing roles for my clients, I receive 'break downs' (a break down is a note that informs agents that a casting director is looking for talent) for roles every day from blockbuster films, to professional theatre to adverts for the world's biggest brands. Sometimes they have a preferred ethnicity and sometimes they don't. Even when they don't I'm compelled to think they already know what 'type of actor' they want because of how they want consumers to view their brand.
It's something that I have witnessed firsthand in the past year when a young client of mine was called to audition for a popular show. The youngster in question is extremely talented and has won a number of fans and awards from previous roles they've had, but the auditioned role in question had always historically been seen as a white character, and of the 60 hopefuls in attendance on the day, he was the only black boy being put forward. The shock amongst the faces of all the other children auditioning, their parents and even some members of the production, was noticeable and hugely frustrating to encounter.
I've personally always had it taught to me that anything is possible, and started my business out of my passion for allowing the younger generation to believe they can fulfil their dreams. The client in question embraced what could easily have become a challenging and uncomfortable environment and let his acting do the talking, successfully being called back for the final shortlist for the part, before ultimately missing out this time. The fact that he got down to the final few is encouraging if nothing else and a glimmer of light that times might be changing.
J.K Rowling's recent vocal support of the decision to cast Noma Dumewuzemi, an actor of black South African heritage, in the role of Hermione in a new London stage production of Harry Potter plays a significant role in highlighting the issue too, and is an exciting development, but now is the time for more to be done.
The Oscars' lack of diversity is a huge question that one blog post would never be big enough to give justice to, but for me the performing arts as a whole seems worryingly behind the times. The reluctance for homosexual actors in Hollywood to come out and accept their sexuality is a huge issue too, and can only be born out of fear of not fitting in with the archaic stereotypes of the industry.
It will take a lot of work to address, but let's hope 2016 is the year that the shift can begin, towards an industry where it is as simple as the best actors getting the best roles and winning the best awards. A novel concept, but one can have a dream, right?
By Jessica Elliott