The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the most people of color in its 2017 nominations since 2006, and that is largely thanks to the films “Moonlight,” “Fences” and “Hidden Figures.” All three of these films have majority African American casts, and have received multiple Oscar nominations besides Best Picture—eight for “Moonlight,” four for “Fences,” and three for “Hidden Figures”. For the past two years, the Academy has received backlash for its lack of diversification among nominees, sparking the popular hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
This year, for the first time in history, the Academy recognized African American actors in all four acting categories. Denzel Washington, Ruth Negga and Mahershala Ali were nominated for best actor, best actress and best supporting actor, respectively. In the best supporting actress category, the Academy nominated three actresses of color: Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis and Naomi Harris.
This recognition of racial diversity even extended into the technical categories. Bradford Young, the cinematographer of “Arrival,” is just the second African American to ever be nominated for best cinematography. Joi McMillon, the film editor of “Moonlight,” is the first African American woman to be nominated for film editing. As for the documentary category, four out of the five nominees, “13th,” “I am Not Your Negro,” “O.J. In America” and “Life, Animated,” have African American producers, including Ava DuVernay, who is the first female African American nominee in the category.
The Academy’s recent changes in racial diversity undoubtedly come as a result of some changes that the Academy underwent after facing #OscarsSoWhite backlash. Over the past year, 683 members were added to the existing 6,687 voters. Out of these new members, 46 percent are women and 43 percent are people of color. Furthermore, members who have been inactive in the film industry for a number of years were removed from the Academy. As of this year, the Academy boasts the most diverse set of voters to date.
Even with this year’s progress in diversity, the sentiments behind #OscarsSoWhite are still valid. For instance, “La La Land” garnered 14 nominations, tying “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for most nominations received by a single film. Additionally, at the Golden Globes, “La La Land” swept every category it was nominated for, winning a record-breaking seven awards. However, “La La Land” does not feature any actors of color in its main cast. African American actor-singer John Legend is only in the film for approximately 20 minutes. With a projected “La La Land” sweep, many of the nominated actors and filmmakers of color could potentially lose, thus undermining any attempts at increasing diversity amongst the Academy Awards.
Additionally, there is still a lack of diversity in the Academy Awards process because even though African American actors and filmmakers garnered record-breaking nominations, few other ethnicities received similar treatment. The most notable nominations among other minorities include Dev Patel’s best supporting actor nomination for “Lion” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s best original song nomination for “Moana.” Patel is only the third Indian actor to be nominated for an acting Oscar. Additionally, there is an apparent lack of women filmmakers among this year’s nominees, especially in key categories like best director. Since the Oscars’ inception, only four women have been nominated for Best Director. In spite of a plethora of female directors in 2016, such as Mia Nair for “Queen of Katwe,” none received recognition for their achievements.
April Reign, one of the main creators behind #OscarsSoWhite, acknowledged the step forward, but proclaimed that “we still don’t have films that reflect the Latino experience, the Asian-American/Pacific Islander experience, the LGBTQIA experience.” Many seem to forget that #OscarsSoWhite is not just about giving more recognition to black actors and filmmakers. The goal of #OscarsSoWhite is to increase representation of all ethnicities and all genders at the Oscars, and the Academy failed in that respect this year.
Until the film industry reaches a time in which it is not a risk to create films which shed light upon a variety of ethnic and LGBTQ experiences, #OscarsSoWhite is not going anywhere. The fight for equal representation in film is not over. It is only the beginning.