While diversity has always been a lacking pillar for the Oscars, there seemed to be hope brewing after the 2021 show. Hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite have been trending for years, and the fact that it has taken so long is simply a slap to the face of incredible talent worldwide. Hollywood has been the centre of the film industry for too long with its mainly straight, white and able stars, and it is about time that the Academy has recognised that.
Going back to #OscarsSoWhite, only 4 POC actors were nominated this year out of 20. And of those four, two clinched a win: Ariana DeBose as Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story and Will Smith taking Best Actor for King Richard. It is also absolutely worth celebrating that DeBose was the first openly queer woman of colour (and just second Latina after Rita Moreno, also as Anita, 60 years ago) to win an Oscar.
Then last year we saw only the first-ever POC female take Best Director (Nomadland’s Chloe Zhao), and in 2020 the first foreign-language film win Best Picture with Parasite. It is all so exciting to see, but to me, the fact that we are still celebrating historical firsts only shows how far behind the Oscars - and much of the awards circuit - is. We are seeing change, however slowly, but there is still so much incredible talent out there being blocked by Hollywood’s cookie-cutter standards.
Some have said that because many big film studios waited to release films in 2022 after the strictest COVID restrictions, we had so many nominees that normally would have been overshadowed. To quote Sky News’ statistics: “In all four acting categories, plus directing and screenwriting, only 53 Oscar wins have been for people from ethnically diverse backgrounds… with half of these wins in the last decade.”
The Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, long yes I know) has tried to increase inclusion by changing up its voting demographic. In fact, this was spurred on by Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s absence from the 2016 Oscars, and the Academy vowed to “commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.” They did manage to succeed, but of course, as most were not shocked by, that increased inclusion of diversity slowed down when they hit their target.
The Academy is still inviting new members of different demographics, but surely they can do better. But they are running a new campaign, Aperture 25, as a continuation of their “equity and inclusion initiative”. We also have the new rules where Best Picture candidates must submit a “confidential Academy Inclusion Standards form”, and meet two out of four ‘standards’ to qualify for a nomination. (The latter will not be enforced until 2024, but for 2022 and 2023 a form must be submitted anyway)
With the Academy finally committing to a bigger push in equity, there is hope on the horizon. We have recently seen history made across the gender, race and deaf communities (Best Picture winner CODA’s Troy Kotsur, the first deaf man and second deaf actor to win an Oscar, and CODA’s win itself as the first winner with a largely deaf cast) and the aim is for this to become the norm. As Marlee Martin, the first deaf actress to take Best Actress, said, “I'm so happy because finally, this validates that everyone is respecting our work as actors in every way.”
Perhaps there’s a place for us after all.