The Oscars We Thought Would Avoid #OscarsSoWhite

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty.
For all the talk about #OscarsSoWhite, you would think that the Academy Awards had no examples of what acknowledging Black people’s work in film looks like. But they do. They modeled it in 2002. Denzel Washington became the second Black person to ever win Best Actor in a leading role for playing the crooked cop in Training Day. It was the same year they honored Sidney Poitier, Washington’s predecessor as the first Black man to win Best Actor in a leading role, with an honorary award. Halle Berry became the first Black actor to win Best Actress in a leading role for her part in Monster’s Ball. Even though she has a committed way too much of her time to defending the horrible actions of white people, Whoopi Goldberg hosted the event, which still counts towards their diversity extravaganza. When Berry accepted her award, she held back tears as the weight of the moment was upon her. In her speech she said: “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge. Lena Horne. Diane Carol. It’s for the women that stand beside me. Jada Pinkett. Angela Bassett. Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless women of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
But no one has walked through it. Despite the successes of the 74th Academy Awards, Berry remains the only Black woman to have won the award. And 14 years later the Oscar’s were being boycotted by actors and viewers alike for a blatant lack of diversity. Things reached a fever pitch after April Reign created #OscarsSoWhite in order to bring attention to the fact that people of color were not being acknowledged for their work in film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. After being put on blast, the Academy made drastic changes to its membership that have contributed to the changes we’re seeing in nominees of color. But diversity in Hollywood does not rest solely on the shoulders of the Oscars. Critically engaging with the question of who is being trained and hired to work both behind and in from of the camera? What resources and pipelines are being created so that Hollywood is no longer a good ol’ boys club? In ignoring these questions, diversity of the 2002 Oscars was merely a facade. And until these questions are at the forefront of conversations about diversity, I’m not sure how inclined I am to trust that these changes are here to stay.

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