Oscars’ season is a period of time sure to generate criticism and debate. In recent years, this debate has been focused on the issue of representation. The Academy task themselves with the seemingly impossible mission of assembling films which will accurately represent the varied ‘human experience’. However, with The Academy being 87% white, 61% male and 100% American, people are frustrated by their inherent inability to accurately present the experience of minorities in the set of films which have been lauded as objectively important.
This reached boiling point in the lead up to the 2016 Oscars. The nominees were announced and the decision rightfully mocked
for its lack of diversity. Only one of the actors nominated in the acting categories was a person of colour. Will Packer, one of the producers of Straight Outta Compton, boldly dismissed the nominee selection as ‘embarrassing’, and many celebrities followed suit. Jada and Will Smith and Spike Lee all refused to attend the ceremony claiming that the Academy has systematically refused to recognise ethnic minorities for their ‘artistic accomplishments’. This protest was accompanied by the hashtag ‘#OscarsSoWhite’. The 2017 awards seemed to suggest that the previous year’s demonstration would have a lasting impact. In an infamously unplanned moment, La La Land was forced to hand over the Oscar for Best Picture to the cast and crew of Moonlight. Moonlight’s success was unexpected, considering how successful La La Land had been as a critical juggernaut.
However, upon reflection, the ‘#OscarsSoWhite’ protest hasn’t changed the fundamental inequality which defines the makeup
of the Academy. The 2018 Oscars had a lot of promise; Get Out was nominated for Best Picture while Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya were nominated for Best Director and Best Lead Actor respectively. There was a lot of hope that the 2018 Academy Awards would affirm the change that Moonlight’s symbolic win had promised, and yet the artist who won the coveted golden statues only seemed to re-establish, or uphold, old Hollywood’s control over the distribution of awards. The four Best Actor accolades were awarded to Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand: these performers may have been deserving of their awards but they act as emblems of tradition. They have had long-established careers built through well known pillars of pop culture. If last year’s winners are anything to judge by, the ‘#OscarsSoWhite’ campaign has not produced tangible results, it has only encouraged the Academy to recognise the talent of ethnic minorities without awarding them.
The Academy seems insistent on their inward-looking, undeveloped approach to art. Yet the future of the Oscars isn’t without hope.
Film fans continually underestimate their role in contributing to the ‘Oscar buzz’ which can score a film a nomination. Critics
and Academy voters make the final decision but those of us who consume culture and film have the power to move the critical needle. Get Out wasn’t a predictable Oscar contender. It was the sustained critical support, made possible by the public’s unfailing support for Peele’s horror film (both on social media and through the box office) which eventually secured Get Out a variety of nominations. The public still have the power to support creative people striving to magnify the voices of minorities. Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Barry Jenkin’s If Beale Street Could Talk are award-worthy films which are focusing on the stories which were long-neglected by Hollywood.