After two years of not nominating a single person of color in any acting category and feeling the wrath of all of us via #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy Awards appears to be finally getting its act together. Seven actors of color are nominated this year, matching the record in 2007. Six of those seven actors are Black, which is a brand new record for the Oscars. And for the first time ever, three Black people are nominated in the same category — Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, Viola Davis for Fences, and Naomie Harris for Moonlight.
These changes are a direct result of the public outcry prompted by April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite in 2015. This effective tactic was amplified when the Oscars basically ignored diversity concerns by boasting another all-white nominee lineup in 2016. After their second flub, the Academy Awards responded with an announcement that they were taking intentional steps to diversify its membership, thus affecting the films, directors, and performers nominated for awards. If this year’s nominee pool is any indication, it’s working.
Already, while some are proclaiming that #OscarsSoWhite is over, the question plaguing diversity proponents is this: Are these changes good enough? Here’s my answer: if this is as far as the Academy Awards are willing to go, then no. There is still a glaring absence of Latino and Asian nominees. Unless these adjustments are part of a long-term, broader strategy to diversify Hollywood then there is more work that needs to be done. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is one of the pinnacle institutions of the entertainment industry. As such, it reflects the racism that exists in media, and has a responsibility to address it as well.
We should all question why films made by, or focused on the issues of, people of color are pigeonholed into a monolithic category (see: “Hidden Fences”) not considered to be of the same caliber as films made by and for white people. We should question why Hollywood elites like Denzel Washington, who has quickly become the annoying uncle full of antiquated advice and a firm believer in the same exceptionalist narratives as Lee Daniels, think that actors of color just need to work harder.
Part of the #OscarsSoWhite dialogue is about what kind of people have access to really learn and hone their crafts. Who can afford to be homeschooled in order to take acting gigs like Emma Stone? Who can afford to leave their family behind and move to New York in order to pursue those dreams like Jennifer Lawrence?
One of the biggest myths that Hollywood likes to perpetuate is that it’s a fairy tale land of equal opportunity and dumb luck, completely removed from the realities of social inequality. This simply isn’t the case. Dismantling this assumption is the reason #OscarsSoWhite will be relevant beyond the 2017 awards season.