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Oscars Countdown: Yes, progress is being made and yes, #OscarsSoWhite is still an issue

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Hollywood has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, with 2017 bringing the fall of Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements, which challenged sexism and gendered power dynamics in the industry. Prior to even this however, and continuing today, Hollywood has been called out for its lack of minority representation, and the Academy particularly for being overwhelmingly white.

The #OscarsSoWhite movement was started by activist and writer April Reign in 2015, after that year’s nominations featured no individuals of colour in the acting categories, despite the fact Selma came out that very year.

2016 was unfortunately, and after attention was drawn to the problem, more of the same. The next year finally saw a record number of nominees from diverse backgrounds, with Moonlight receiving eight nominations and winning Best Picture, beating La La Land; A gay, black coming-of-age story won against a film that featured no leading actors of colour. Change was happening.  

Today, Oscar nominations in the acting categories include Daniel Kaluuya, Denzel Washington, Mary J. Blige and Octavia Spencer, and Guillermo del Toro, Kumail Nanjiani, Jordan Peele, Yance Ford and Dee Rees gained recognition in the original screenplay, director, and other categories. It continues to look like Hollywood is embracing diversity.

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out (2017)

Many were quick to celebrate the diversity of nominees this year, undoubtedly because comparatively to previous years, it appeared an unprecedented win for minorities. And yes, this inclusion of traditionally marginalised groups into film should be applauded. However, some have gone as far as to ask whether the era of #OscarsSoWhite is over… No, it isn’t.

Women of colour were still shut out of the Lead Actress category, despite nomination suggestions including Salma Hayek for her subtly powerful performance in Beatriz at Dinner, and Hong Chau for her performance in Downsizing. This reflects a broader, more worrying, and historic lack of Latinx and Asian nominations across all major categories, with the only notable exception being Coco for best Animated Feature.

In excluding these groups from such a central industry celebration, Hollywood is signalling that despite their being more open to celebrating Black talent, stories, and experiences, they are not yet ready to let other people of colour take their seat at the table.  

There is still such a long way to go before underrepresented communities achieve a level footing with white individuals in Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera. Just because progress is made does not mean that equality has been achieved; the Oscars, and the film industry, remain dominated by white males.

In 2012, the LA Times had reported that The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body behind the Academy Awards, was 94 percent white and 77 percent male. This year, its 7000 voters are now made up of 28 percent women and 13 percent people of colour, hinting that the body is taking steps towards rectifying the systematic and institutionalised discrimination that has thus far prevailed.

Despite these changes, who remains the dominant demographic? Older white men. Once again, progress is good, but only if it is recognised as just one step of what must become many more.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017)

The most significant change we’ve seen this year is undoubtedly in the sorts of stories that are being told and recognised. The nine nominations for Best Picture include a love story between two men (Call Me by Your Name), a horror satire about racism in America (Get Out), a teen coming-of-age story celebrating female relationships (Ladybird), and one that embodies the female rage of injustice that drove #MeToo (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).

Even I, Tonya, which is represented in the Lead Actress and Supporting Actress categories, wonderfully depicts a survivor of domestic violence in a manner that successfully evades the ‘perfect victim’ stereotype, and opts for a nuanced and agency-lending narrative.

The kinds of stories we tell are just as important, have just as much an impact in shaping the world, as the people who tell them. The Academy, and Hollywood, must continue to get better at diversifying both.

As we celebrate greater inclusion and recognition of traditionally ignored and marginalised groups, let us not forget that a few nominations cannot undo decades of women’s, peoples of colour’s, and other minorities’ exclusion. And as Reign pointed out, “Until we are no longer lauding ‘firsts’ after a 90 year history, until we can no longer count a traditionally underrepresented communities’ number of nominations in a particular category on our fingers, #OscarsSoWhite remains relevant. The fight continues.”

The fight isn’t over until pioneering exceptions become the rule.

 

The 90th Academy Awards will take place on March 4th.

 




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