Last year’s Academy Award nominations were surrounded by intense controversy regarding the lack of diversity in all the main categories. After many protests and boycotts of the event by actors, producers, and directors there was hope that this year diversity would be seen. However, it has turned out to be even worse.
This year’s Oscar nominations have thrust the conversation about diversity back into the limelight, but this time in a more positive context.
Seven actors of color were nominated this year including: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis for Fences, Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Ruth Negga for Loving, Dev Patel for Lion, and Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures. Davis is now a three-time Oscar nominee, a first for an African-American woman.
Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, also made history as the first African- American to score nominations for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay in the same year. The lm’s co- editor, Joi McMillon, also became the first African-American to earn a nomination for achievement in film editing.
Ava DuVernay, who in 2015 lost out on the opportunity to become the first black woman nominated for Best Director for her film Selma, is nominated for Best Documentary Feature this year for 13th.
Some may conclude that the nominations reflect institutional bias against minorities and women within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, but the problem is with Hollywood’s major studios and agencies. There were 305 films eligible this year. If hiring reflected the U.S. population, Oscar voters would have weighed 150-plus lms directed by women, 45 directed by blacks, 50 by Hispanics, and dozens of movies by directors who are Asian- American, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and members of other minorities. Of course, the actual tallies were less than those numbers.
While my first reaction to seeing so much representation for people of color within the Oscar nominations was to celebrate, my second instinct was to take a step back and watch major media outlets in their pretty problematic celebration; media outlets that are suddenly announcing an end to the drought of Oscars diversity, or announcing that diversity is making a comeback.
It’s problematic to announce that the problem of diversity is over within Hollywood simply because 7 out of 20 nomination consist of actors of color. It showcases diversity, in that this year the Oscars has moved away from films dominated by white people both in front of, and behind, the screen. Yet, one year of actually representing more than white actors and directors does not make up for the decades of racism that the Oscars, and in particular Hollywood, has perpetuated, and actually continues to perpetuate as we speak.
Nominations are one thing. Actually scoring an Academy Award win is another ball game in itself. While having a diverse range of nominations is all well and good, actors and directors of color are still making history being the ‘first of’ in various categories.
The film industry is about two decades behind television. This year’s Emmy Awards marked a milestone, as Viola Davis became the first African-American to win for lead actress in a drama for ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. The success of shows that run the gamut of Scandal and Empire, to Key & Peele, Black-ish, Orange is the New Black, and Transparent offer a reminder that diversity is good for show business, in front of and behind the camera.
There are, unfortunately, still many milestones that both actors and filmmakers of color have to achieve. And while being nominated is de nitely a step in the right direction, all this to say we should celebrate that we are making strides toward a more diverse film industry, however we have to acknowledge that there is still change to be made.