Last night, the 89th annual Academy Awards–otherwise known as the Oscars–took place in California. As we will see in my upcoming video on black representation (filmed before the Oscars), receiving recognition from mainstream institutions of prestige in an industry is important. Critics in the past–especially last year–have called out the Academy for overlooking films featuring people of color. Entertainment Weekly said,
AMPAS President Cheryl Boone Isaacs spearheaded a campaign to diversify the organization’s membership in January 2016. As part of the ongoing initiative, the Academy invited a record number of new participants, extending offers to 683 film industry professionals from 59 countries. Forty-six percent of invitees were female, while 41 percent were people of color.
The results of this diversification are already promising. The highlights for women, queer people, and people of color:
Viola Davis, Fences for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Zootopia for Best Animated Feature Film*
O.J.: Made In America for Best Feature Documentary*
The Salesman for Best Foreign Language Film
Moonlight for Best Adapted Screenplay
and of course
Moonlight for Best Picture.
Many entertainment news sources already have great (and not so great) think pieces written up in reaction to these wins and some other less enjoyable wins. Some history was made at these Oscars. For starters, Entertainment Weekly has stated that this year’s Oscars has the most black winners to date. Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim to win an Academy Award ever. Another highlight of the night included the attendance of actual American hero Kathrine Johnson, one of the female African-American NASA physicists that was highlighted in the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures.
Zootopia and O.J.: Made In America are starred above because, while they don’t feature people of color in the majority of the acting or production, it’s important to note the messages they share. A friend on my Facebook page phrased it nicely when they said: “I think it is notable that the historic wins last night were not just for people of color and stories by and about them, but of movies that highlighted ideas of justice and fairness like [O.J.: Made In America] and Zootopia.” They continued, echoing my overall feelings about the Oscars and Hollywood in general, “People have been making movies like these, and casting talented Black actors, for a long while. But it took an actually diverse Academy to recognize them for their achievements.”
It seems that #OscarsSoWhite may be a thing of the past. However, there are some important notes to make. Many winners and nominees for behind-the-scenes work such as sound, music, editing, costume, and make-up were still very white. These roles are important to diversify as well. For example, despite all the black people that worked on Moonlight, none of the producers of this film were black.
While there are highs and lows to this year’s Oscars, progress is being made. There’s a chance that this year is a fluke and #OscarsSoWhite will come back in full vengeance next year. However, I have hope that a more diverse Academy and the success of these more diverse films will bode well for the future of Hollywood. To close this piece, I want to share more people of color that are amazing and their performance that was the highlight for me. Although neither won an Oscar last night, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Auli’l Cravahlo had an amazing performance of their Oscar-nominated song “How Far I’ll Go” from the Oscar-nominated animated feature film, Moana.