With just under a month to go until the actual ceremony, the 2018 Academy Awards already feel momentous.
For the first time since 2013, a woman (Greta Gerwig, for Lady Bird) is nominated in the Best Director category, alongside a Black man (Jordan Peele, for Get Out). Both of their films are also nominated for Best Picture, sharing that honor with a lush tale of first love between two men (Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name).
Mary J. Blige, nominated for Mudbound, is the first Black woman to be nominated in multiple categories in the same year (for Best Supporting Actress and Best Song.) Dee Rees, who directed the film, is the first Black woman to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Rachel Morrison, nominated for her Mudbound cinematography, is the first woman ever to be compete in that category. A Fantastic Woman was tapped for Best Foreign Film, recognizing an achievement by a trans actress for the first time. And Octavia Spencer, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Shape of Water, is the first Black actress to follow up a win with two more nominations.
But all these firsts, while cause for celebration, are also an opportunity to reflect: Why has it taken so long? And how far do we have left to go?
To answer those questions, it's helpful to look at the make-up of the industry body that actually makes the decisions that lead to people vying for little gold men on the most glamorous night of the year. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization responsible for voting and choosing who is nominated for an Oscar, is comprised of over 7,000 members across 17 branches of film. (In 1927, when the Academy was founded, there were 293 filmmakers representing five branches.)
Recent Oscar history has been characterized by the #OscarsSoWhite movement, which called out the Academy for not nominating a single person of color in any acting category for two consecutive years, 2015 and 2016. 2017 showed mild improvement, with seven actors of color nominated, matching the high from 2007.
In order to understand what shifted in 2018, let me direct you to the members inducted last June. 2017 marked the biggest class ever admitted, with 774 new members, from 57 countries. (There are a lot of numbers headed your way, so brace yourself.) It was also the most diverse class in the Academy's history: women made up 39% of new members, 30% were people of color. In fact, from 2015 (the first year of #OscarsSoWhite) to 2017, there has been a 359% increase in women invited to join.
While that's an impressive number, it's dampened by the fact that women still only make up 28% of total members, despite making up 50.8% of the U.S. population.
In 2015, people of color made up only 8% of total Academy membership. That number has now jumped to 13%. Given that studies project that "minorities" will become the majority of the U.S. population by roughly 2043, that number, while a sign of progress, is still pretty low.
So, while it looks like the Academy is finally motivated to redress the wrongs of the past, the problem is far from solved.
In the last couple of months, Hollywood has had to face some hard truths about a systemic power imbalance that left many of its women vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Conversations are finally being had about how the industry can better support and empower women in their jobs, but also about how to close the gap. Women need to be able to direct, to produce, to manage, to represent, and to vote without it being worthy of a headline. Until that happens, even the most glass-half full kind of news will remain disappointing.
Greta Gerwig is only the fifth woman ever to be nominated for Best Director, an award that only one woman has won in the Oscars' 90-year history. Jordan Peele is only the fifth person of color to be nominated. No woman of color has gotten the nod (Dee Rees, a solid contender, was notably snubbed this year), and no person of color has won.
They deserve our cheers and our support come Oscars night. But let them also be a reminder of the work that still needs to be done.
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