Oscars Improve Representation

A year after “Oscars So White,” the revamped Academy recognizes more people of color and more diverse films.
A year after “Oscars So White,” the revamped Academy recognizes more people of color and more diverse films.

By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is certainly stepping up their representation game with this year’s list of Oscar nominees. After last year’s awards, movie lovers both within and outside of the industry were disheartened and angered at the noticeably white and male attendee list. This year, however, I look forward to seeing a diverse group of artists being honored. Not only are there more people of color being nominated, but there are also more films highlighting important justice issues surrounding oppressed groups.
After the 2016 awards, many people started to critique the academy and looked at their management critically. The New York Times published an opinion piece about the lack of representation, and said, ““Hollywood has a race problem. Hollywood has always had a race problem. The movie industry continues to ignore audiences of color, to its own detriment, given the box office success that do feature diverse casts.”
Their point is an important one. The more representation we see in popular movies, the more people will be interested in seeing them, because they will see a piece of their own experiences reflected in the story. This is what draws people into stories and art, and for too long we have allowed the stories being told to be controlled by a small group that does not reflect the viewership.
This is far from being a new problem. The New York Times also said, “As of 2012, 94 percent of academy voters were white and 77 percent of those voters were men.” The more diverse a group of people in positions of power, and voting on these issues, the more that diversity will be reflected in the films being made and the people being honored.
Happily, this year’s Oscar’s appear to be starting to turn this sad truth around. Ruth Negga, born in Ethiopia and nominated for her work in “Loving,” is nominated for Best Actress. Denzel Washington is nominated for Best Actor. There are three women of color nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Octavia Spencer, Naomie Harris, and Viola Davis. In Best Supporting Actor we have Mahershala Ali for his work in “Hidden Figures,” and Dev Patel, who was born in London to parents who were from Kenya and of Gujarati Indian descent.
Perhaps the reason why there are so many fantastic people of color nominated for their acting achievements this year is that we have also had an unusually large number of films highlighting African American stories and struggles. Among the nominations for best film this year are “Hidden Figures,” a film about the brilliant women who worked in a segregated division of human “computers” at NASA and whose work was critical to launching America’s first man into space, and “Moonlight,” an intense film that tracks a black gay man through different stages of his life and the various struggles he faces.
Also, in the Best Documentary category, we have 13th,” which is about racial inequality in the prison institution in the U.S., “I Am Not Your Negro,” and “OJ: Made In America.” All of these documentaries directly tackle difficult race issues and tensions that have plagued our country for so long and are intertwined in the fabric of our culture. These films and documentaries are so important because they are changing the game of what is perceived as permissible, profitable, and artistic in the film industry, and they are giving a voice to stories that are so important to American culture, but have so often been silenced.
Although this year’s list of nominees represents an amazing step forward in the fight for equality, diversity, and representation, we still have a long way to go. I look forward to a day where there is more than one person who is not white in the Best Actor or Actress category, and when having a diverse list of artists at the Oscars doesn’t make the news. In times where more and more people across our nation are being scared into silence, it is critical that our art forms and communities provide a more open side to the story, and a place for everyone’s voices to be heard. Let’s not forget that the majority of Hollywood’s biggest writers and producers are still white men. Let’s strive not only for representative faces on screen, but also for diverse people calling the shots behind the scenes.

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