Oscars and Hollywood Whitewashing: a conversation lesson for adults

The Oscars usually provide good material for English lessons, as most students like talking about movies. This year was no different, even though the focus of this lesson is slightly different from the ones I have taught in the past.

Much has been said about the fact that there were no African-Americans among this year’s nominees and this issue was addressed both by John Oliver in his TV show and by Chris Rock in the opening monologue of the Oscar ceremony.

Disclaimer: although adolescents might enjoy talking about this topic, the first video does include swear words, so be mindful of your audience.

Start the lesson by asking students if they like movies and what their favourite films and actors are. Make note of it as it may be useful later in the lesson. Now show the following questions to students.

  • Did you watch the Oscar ceremony or read about the winners?
  • Do you take Oscar nominations into account when choosing a film to watch? Why or Why not?
  • Would you like to attend the Oscar ceremony? Why or Why not?

Get feedback from the whole group and tell students they are going to watch a snippet from an American TV programme where some of the controversy about this year’s Academy Awards is explained.

Tell them to pay attention to the following:

  • What is whitewashing?
  • Why aren’t there more roles for non-white actors?
  • What’s Ridley Scott’s justification for using white actors in a film about Egypt?
  • What happens when African-American actors take on roles of white people?


Get students to discuss their answers in pairs and then conduct a feedback session with the whole group.

As a follow-up to the video, ask students what their opinion is on whitewashing. Get them together in small groups to discuss the following questions.

  • In your opinion, who is to blame: members of the academy who choose the nominees or the studios who make the films?
  • How would you feel about a black actor playing James Bond or a white actor playing Othello?

Before watching the second video, ask students if they recognize the man on this picture (Chris Rock) and how much they know about him.


If students don’t bring it up, tell them that Chris Rock was the host of this year’s Academy Awards and that his opening monologue had been eagerly awaited, as people wanted to know if and how he would address the whitewashing issue.

Tell students they are going to watch a news report talking about Chris Rock’s monologue and ask them to answer the following questions.

  • What is the other name Chris Rock gives to the Oscars?
  • Is whitewashing something new in Hollywood?
  • Why didn’t black people protest about it in the past?
  • Is Hollywood racist, according to Chris Rock?
  • What do black actors want, according to him?

After watching the video, ask students to compare their answers in pairs and then turn the lesson into a whole group discussion. Go back to the films mentioned at the beginning of the lesson and ask students if they think there was diversity in their casting or whether the main roles could have been played by actors of a different ethnicity.

To wrap up the lesson you can ask students to talk or write about whether whitewashing (and minorities in general) are disadvantaged in their own professions. You can use the question below to jump start the conversation.

  • Do minorities (women, African-Americans, gays, etc) get equal opportunities in the company where you work? What makes you say that?

Thanks for reading.

One thought on “Oscars and Hollywood Whitewashing: a conversation lesson for adults

  1. Pingback: Casey Affleck and International Women’s day: a conversation lesson | ricardo barros elt

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