Every single year without fail, the Oscars draw criticism for the lack of diversity in its line-up of nominees. 336 acting Oscars have been awarded in its history, 19 to Black actors, 5 to Hispanic/Latino actors and 3 to Asian actors.
Recently the Oscars unveiled plans to tackle the diversity (or lack thereof) of its nominees. This has been a long time coming, and stems from the growth of the #oscarssowhite movement in 2016 started by activist April Reign, after there were no black or minority actors nominated for two years in a row. This 2016 movement also sparked an especially furious backlash and a high-profile boycott of the ceremony from many including Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Now, the makeup is only 31% female and 16% people of colour – hardly an accurate representation of the real world, and hardly a speedy increase in diversity
These nomination patterns are believed to stem partially from the demographics of the voting Academy members, which is dominated by white men. According to a 2014 Los Angeles Times study, the overall Academy is 94% white and 76% male, with an average age of 63, most of which are US-based. Since this report came out, the Academy has aimed to increase its uptake of women and minority voters by record numbers. However, this years demographic is slow to change. Now, the makeup is only 31% female and 16% people of colour – hardly an accurate representation of the real world, and hardly a speedy increase in diversity. This lack of representation may well be the reason that certain films, especially those centred on women and minority groups, are ignored year upon year despite being excellent films widely praised everywhere else.
The Academy has recently introduced a new set of requirements that films must meet in order to be nominated for Best Picture. Films nominated must meet diversity standards in two out of four categories: containing underrepresented groups in the cast, in the backstage crew roles, in apprenticeship schemes and in senior roles within the marketing team. While there have been kneejerk reactions on social media stating films such as 1917, focused on white male characters, would not meet these new requirements, this in fact not the case, since it would pass two standards offscreen. Setting standards in roles behind the camera is a significant positive to this scheme, where diversity can often be even lower than on-screen. However, many say these rules don’t go far enough.
The historic Best Picture win of South Korean film Parasite this year, or Moonlight in 2017 … start to look like one off events when you stop to look at the history of the ceremony as a whole
Will these new requirements work? For the Academy this remains to be seen, but BAFTA have just this year put in place similar standards for the Best Picture category. Brilliant right? That is until they yet again caused an uproar upon releasing an all-white list of acting nominees and all-male directing nominees.
Female directors are an incredibly underrepresented group. In a time where there are more female directed films than ever and the issue is widely discussed, women are still struggling to break the glass ceiling. Only five female directors have been nominated for an Oscar throughout the ceremony’s history, with only one win awarded to Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker. Despite Greta Gerwig’s Little Women being nominated for many other awards this year (including Best Picture), her lack of a nomination in the Best Director category was widely seen as a snub. As for female directors of colour, they struggle even more to gain recognition in this category.
Either way, in the #oscarssowhite and #metoo era, if the Academy wants to keep up with the times it will need to move much faster than it currently is
Actors of colour also continue to face challenges being recognised by the Academy. 29 actors of colour have won 32 awards between them in the entire history of the ceremony, including three honorary awards and some actors with multiple wins. There have been serious criticisms of this year’s nearly all-white slate, as many non-white actors and actresses had been circulating the awards conversation. These snubs included Jennifer Lopez’s role in Hustlers as an entrepreneurial stripper and Lupita Nyong’o chilling dual role in horror Us. The historic Best Picture win of South Korean film Parasite this year, or Moonlight in 2017 (who remembers that drama!), start to look like one off events when you stop to look at the history of the ceremony as a whole.
There is currently a huge and ever-increasing gap between an Oscar-winning film and the films that the public actually enjoy going to see. There is a case to be made for the ‘popular film’ receiving more recognition within the Oscars than it currently does. There is also a case to be made for the Academy highlighting lower budget, passion project films that otherwise wouldn’t be seen by a wide audience. Either way, in the #oscarssowhite and #metoo era, if the Academy wants to keep up with the times it will need to move much faster than it currently is.
In article image courtesy of @theacademy via Instagram. No changes made to this image
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