Like Oscars, Hasty Pudding Awards Lack Diversity

Amy Poehler performed with students during the roast portion of Hasty Pudding Theatricals 2015 Woman of the Year ceremony at Harvard University campus in Cambridge on January 29.
Amy Poehler performed with students during the roast portion of Hasty Pudding Theatricals 2015 Woman of the Year ceremony at Harvard University campus in Cambridge on January 29. –CJ Gunther/EPA

The Hasty Pudding Theatricals Man and Woman of the Year awards are starting to draw parallels to the Academy Awards—but not in a positive way.

Over the years, the Harvard student-run theater organization has honored some of the highest profile stars. However, similar to the Oscar’s recent controversy, there has been a lack of diversity among the recipients of the annual awards.

Only six African-American entertainers have ever been honored by the Pudding since the first Woman of the Year award was handed out in 1951 (the Man of the Year award began in 1967). The list of non-white performers chosen includes Dionne Warwick, Bill Cosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, and Halle Berry.

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Actors from other ethnic groups, such as Asian and Hispanic performers, have never been honored by the Theatricals.

“I think there’s an increasing hope to broaden the diversity of our recipients, and I think that’s definitely something you will start to see,’’ said Jason Hellerstein, president of the Theatricals. “Culturally, it’s so in the public eye, and kind of with the Selma Oscar snub, it’s just brought it to the forefront even more. I’d be pretty surprised if that doesn’t start changing, and that’s kind of as the world is changing, and as Harvard is changing as well.’’

The Theatricals currently consists of 53 student members, but, the company would not provide demographic information, according to Hellerstein. The group’s president says that beside the cast, which continues to be all-male, the Theatricals’s other departments are “pretty close to even between guys and girls.’’

As for the annual awards, they are determined by a small commitee within the group.

Each fall, the business staff’s Man and Woman of the Year coordinator meets with the executive board to pick the recipients. The board is made up of the theater group’s president, two producers, cast vice president, band vice president, and tech vice president.

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The criteria for a performer to be nominated is not set in stone. Usually an actor’s on-screen résumé is taken into consideration with how well the board thinks the person will get along with the cast and crew.

“What we are looking for generally is somebody who has a lot of substantial things under their belt and also seems like the kind of entertainer that people in the company look up to,’’ says Hellerstein. “We make sure we give the award to somebody whose work we really respect and enjoy. It’s obviously a little bit different for many reasons from getting like an Emmy nomination or an Oscar nomination or something, because we’re college students, and we just have sort of very different criteria for the kinds of things we enjoy.’’

Hellerstein adds that the 2015 Man and Woman of the Year recipients, Parks and Recreation stars Amy Poehler and Chris Pratt, were chosen because they are “great examples of people who are obviously hilarious and incredibly talented, and also just seem like a ton of fun.’’

This year’s Oscar nominees attended the 87th Annual Academy Awards Nominee Luncheon on February 2 in Beverly Hills. —Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Hasty Pudding’s diversity issues bring to mind the recent controversy with the Academy Awards.

The 2015 Oscars have come under fire for failing to nominate a single person of color in an acting category, the first time this has happened since 1998. Selma director Ava Duvernay’s shutout in the directorial category has also been a point of contention.

Overall, only eight non-white performers have won an Academy Award for Best Actor or Best Actress since 1927.

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Many critics have cited the fact that the roster of over 6,000 Academy voters are 93 percent white, 76 percent male, with an average age of 63, as the reasons behind the underrepresentation of minority actors and filmmakers at the Oscars.

John Stauffer, a professor of African American Studies at Harvard, sees a parallel between the controversy over this year’s Oscar nominations and the lack of diversity in the Man and Woman of the Year awards. He believes, however, that the handful of African-American performers honored by Hasty Pudding is more indicative of the group’s perceived higher socioeconomic background, which may have put off some students from wanting to try out for the group.

“The members of Hasty Pudding, I’ll call them elite, who come from private schools with parents whose families are pretty well off,’’ Stauffer says.

According to an October article in The Harvard Crimson on the Hasty Pudding Club, which the Theatricals are an extension of under the Hasty Pudding Institute banner, 85 percent of the 2013 pledge class attended private high schools. This is in stark contrast to Harvard’s current group of freshman, as only 39 percent of the class of 2017 attended private schooling.

“[There’s] fewer students majoring in the humanities… And a large part of that is economics,’’ Stauffer says. “Higher education costs a lot more now than it ever has before. If you come from a lower class or lower-middle class or even middle class background, and get into Harvard or Yale or one of these schools, there’s going to be cultural pressure not to spend your energy at Hasty Pudding.’’

This isn’t the first time the group has been critized for issues regarding race.

The Theatricals were lambasted by Harvard’s Asian American Association over an allegedly stereotypical portrayal of an Asian character named Edgar Foo Young in their production of the musical “A Little Knife Music’’ in the spring of 1980.

While little has been written on the subject, Hasty Pudding’s apparent lack of diversity hasn’t gone completely unnoticed.

Poehler, who was honored with the Woman of the Year award last week, even quipped about the subject during the roast portion of the ceremony.

“I haven’t seen this many smiling white faces since I took my top off at a mime convention,’’ Poehler joked at the January 29 event.

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