Diversity at the Oscars

People of colour, women, and the LGBTQ+ community are finally being recognised in the film industry, both on and off screen. Though, along with the many spurs of pride and joy comes the disappointment with which we wonder why, in 2018, inclusivity and multiplicity are still a scarcity that should have started being the norm ages ago.

2017 and 2018 have seen people standing together in solidarity, speaking for themselves and for others in transnational movements (Women’s March, BLM movement, etc.) advocating for progress and change within the inherent violence of a predominantly white patriarchy. Platforms such as social media have given the public a louder voice to speak with, fortifying their say and opinion in current affairs. The BAFTAS and the Golden Globes this year could not be perceived without the context of female empowerment, with celebrities (and fans) openly advocating the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns by wearing black or holding simple white roses as signs of support and protest, urging on crucially needed debate about gender equality in the film industry.

With a bit of hope, this years Academy Awards will follow that same trend, as they are an influential platform. Hollywood, its stars, mode of social production, and shiny façade have always had a way of representing what it means to be a person in contemporary society – reflecting ideology, conventional norms, etc. For quite some years now the Oscars have been subject to public scrutiny: celebrities have been using their platforms for the better, boycotting the ceremony, speaking against the lack of diversity, and even refused their awards as a statement and sign of protest; all adding to the demand of change within the Hollywood system and society as a whole. Fortunately, progress is finally on the horizon. The current Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy’s first African-American president, has been instrumental in the inclusion of young and p.o.c. members to the Academy that beforehand was mainly made out of white (94%) men (77%) of a certain age, which hugely limited the range of Oscar nominations. 2015-2017 has seen 774 new members from across 56 countries. Up until now, many groups have gone unnoticed. Those of Asian descent, for example, have been dreadfully neglected in the past 90 years of Oscar history, with more white actors winning awards for playing Asian roles than Asian actors themselves. The changes to the Academy body have now resulted in a 359% increase in female and a 331% increase in p.o.c. members, thus widening range, increasing diversity, and changing the norm.

Hollywood, still known for its traces of an old star system, has been known to produce a very limited kind of movies within a certain set of conventions and with a distinct ideology, so to say, leaving many without opportunities and a platform. Circumstances have slowly been changing, however. Within the Best Picture line up, big studios are not the only powerful players anymore, with small independent productions like Call Me by Your Name earning great public praise and attention. Filmmakers from a wider field are being recognised for their work and contribution. Although Hollywood is still far from equality, the nominations of the 90th Annual Academy Awards are going against age-old conventions, and some are (potentially) making Oscar history.

One of the most outstanding accomplishments belongs to Jordan Peele, director and writer of Get Out, subject to widespread popularity. This year Peele has become the first African-American to have been on the receiving end of a Trifecta Oscar Nomination (Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture). In the case he wins Best Director or Best Original Screenplay on the fourth of March, Peele would become the first African-American in history to be honoured with either (or both) the Awards.

Another history-making nomination, besides Peele’s, belongs to Rachel Morrison, who is now the first woman to be nominated with the Oscar for Best Cinematography in all the 90 years the Academy Awards have been taking place for her work on Mudbound. After the great popularity of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, it seems that things are looking better for female empowerment this award season. Out of 199 nominations, 23% are women. It still is not ideal, but, compared to previous years, should be seen as a significant step.

Greta Gerwig, acclaimed for her work as director and scriptwriter of Lady Bird, is only the fifth woman ever to be nominated for Best Director and, if she wins, could be the second recipient of the Award (Kathryn Bigelow was the first female Best Director in 2010).

Another woman breaking the glass ceiling is Dee Rees. She, also for her work on Mudbound (director and writer), is not only the first African-American woman ever to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay but also gets the title of being the first African-American woman who directed a film for which an actor/actress is up for a golden statuette, too, as Mary J. Blige is nominated for Best Actress in Supporting Role.

Apart from this, Blige also has a chance of winning Best Music, Original Song, making her not only the first African-American woman to be nominated for multiple Awards in one year but also the first person ever to be nominated for both writing and acting in one year.

 

Yance Ford, another acclaimed African-American filmmaker this year, who is nominated for Best Documentary (director), is the first openly transgender man to be nominated for an Award, going against the convention of a Hollywood dominated by white, straight men. Along with Ford, others nominees this year, including Dee Rees, Rachel Morrison, Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name, Best Director), James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name, Best Adapted Screenplay), Benj Pasek (The Greatest Showman, Best Original Song) and Tatiana S. Riegel (I, Tonya, Best Editing), are also strongly representing the LGBTQ+ community. This representation can similarly be found in the depicted stories themselves. Back in 2006 when Brokeback Mountain  was ‘snubbed’ from their Best Picture win, some thought that homophobia and the narrow-mindedness of the voters had too big of a say in the eventual outcome, but this year with widespread appreciation and awe for Call Me by Your Name (Best Picture) and A Fantastic Woman (Best Foreign Language Film), stories that a while ago might have been ‘uncouth’, now, due to the increasing diversity of the Members, are being nominated, recognised, and praised by many.

It also seems that the range of stories told on screen is improving. Call Me by Your Name aims to tell a story about the universal feelings of love and loss, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Get Out painfully and effectively addresses the mistreatment and discrimination of people of colour. Three out of nine nominations for Best Picture are stories with a female protagonist, while the last Best Picture win with a female protagonist was all the way back in 2003. The amount of films nominated that do not centre around (or are not filtered through the point of view from) a straight, white, male protagonist is slowly increasing, and the diversity, variety, and quality of and within narratives, some might argue, are the better of it.

This year’s Oscar nominees help us observe what kind of fresh, interesting, and challenging works can come out of diversity and inclusivity. Regardless of your identification, orientation, gender, sex, religion, or age, film is a language all of us speak on different levels and in different forms. The beauty of film is that it has the great potential to transcend barriers, and empower those that feel marginalised. Things are finally changing within the Hollywood system, one nomination at a time. Imagine what it would be like to see that potential fulfilled with more people within our society included both on and off screen, working together to create true pieces of incandescent art. Isn’t it about time?


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