The Academy Awards come around once every year, and just as timely are the articles that decry the show’s lack of diverse nominees; like in past years, the 2019 Oscar nominations were overwhelmingly white and male, although there were exceptions. This year had some historic wins: Bong Joon-Ho’s South Korean film “Parasite” won awards for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best International Feature Film) and Taiki Waititi, an Indigenous man, won Best Adapted Screenplay for “Jojo Rabbit.” However, these are exceptions to larger trends, and it’s still debatable what purpose the Oscars serve if they aren’t willing to honor the full scope of excellent movies being produced each year.
The Oscars have some artists of color in past years: Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” scored a handful of nominations in 2018. In 2017, Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” made history for its win, its coming-of-age story about a gay, black man and its majority black cast and crew. Despite these exceptions, Oscar nominations and wins still largely favor white artists.
There were only three non-white nominees across all acting and directing categories: actor Antonio Banderas (Best Actor for “Pain and Glory”), actor Cynthia Erivo (Best Actress for “Harriet”) and director Bong Joon-Ho (“Parasite”). No women were nominated for Best Director, despite this year being the “highest percentage of female directors […] seen” according to Stacy L. Smith, director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California.
The lack of women nominated for Best Director was a major talking point of the night. It was highlighted in a monologue by Chris Rock and Christ Martin, and even on Natalie Portman’s cloak. Portman’s cloak had the names of snubbed female directors embroidered along its edge.
Several notable actors of color did not receive nominations, including Lupita Nyongo (“Us”), Awkwafina (“The Farewell”), Jodie Turner Smith and Daniel Kaluuya (“Queen and Slim”) and Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name”).
Scarlett Johansson got a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role in “Jojo Rabbit,” as well as a Best Actress nomination for “Marriage Story.” According to Entertainment Weekly, Johansson is only the twelfth actor in history to be nominated twice for acting in the same year. However, the accomplishment seems tainted since it serves as a reminder of the ceremony’s overwhelming whiteness.
However, it’s worth noting credit where credit’s due when it comes to this year’s awards. “Parasite” was a big winner, and became the first international film to ever win Best Picture at the Oscars. Waititi became the first person of Maori descent to win an Oscar. And Guðnadóttir became the first woman to win Best Original Score since multiple musical categories were combined into one. All of these were big moments of celebration, with Waititi dedicating his win “to all the Indigenous kids who are in the world who want to do art, and dance, and write stories” and Guðnadóttir saying: “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up — we need to hear your voices.” Joon-Ho shouted out his fellow directors, and thanked the Academy but when “Parasite” won Best Foreign
Language Film at the Golden Globes, he had this nugget of wisdom. “Once you overcome the one inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said.
These wins are well worth celebrating, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the Oscars are still a place where white people, white men in particular, are the norm.
Representation matters. According to an Annenberg Foundation, of the top 100 movies they analyzed between 2007-2016, 47 had no black or African American women, 66 had no Asian or Asian American women, 72 had no hispanic or Latinx women, and 91 had no LGBTQ+ women. Of the 900 total popular movies surveyed, only 2.7 percent featured a character with a disability in a speaking role. That’s just scratching the surface. On a Quora forum via Forbes, Nancy Wang Yuen author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism, wrote: “Prolonged television exposure predicts a decrease in self-esteem for all girls and for black boys, and an increase in self-esteem for white boys. These differences correlate with the racial and gender biases in Hollywood, which casts only white men as heroes, while erasing or subordinating other groups as villains, sidekicks, and sexual objects.” What happens on the silver screen has a real world impact. It’s so important for aspiring filmmakers and artists to see people they identify with winning awards at ceremonies such as the Oscars, because then they might think hey, someday that could be me.
In the end, some really good movies get nominated for Oscars. But they’re such a small and specific pool of what’s out there. So once you’ve taken a look at who’s in the running to get the little golden statues this year, go hold your own viewing marathon. Watch all the (occasionally or often better and more interesting) movies that weren’t given a shot. If Hollywood won’t recognize them, then you can.