Debates about diversity in awards ceremonies reached a boiling point last year, getting the attention of even avowed awards-ceremony-shunners, like myself. The 2016 Academy Awards, or Oscars, marked the third year in a row that all 20 nominated actors and actresses were white, a trend that birthed the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.
While I’ve never had much interest in the Oscars, or trusted them as a measure of acting talent, the disproportionate whiteness, and subsequent outcry, got my attention. Apparently it got a lot of other people's attention too, contributing to a restructuring of the Academy of Motion Pictures and a more diverse set of nominees moving into the next year. The 2017 nominations, which covered movies released in 2016, were a lot more diverse, clearly a reaction to the well-earned, and very public, scorn and scandal of 2016. Three of five Best Supporting Actress nominees are black, namely Viola Davis, Naomie Harris and Octavia Spencer. The Best Supporting Actor category contenders include Mahershala Ali, an African-American actor, and Dev Patel, who is of British-Indian descent. While there is less diversity in the lead categories, Ruth Negga has been nominated for her role in Loving, and Fences star Denzel Washington is competing for Best Actor. While there is still a long way to go in recognizing black excellence, the more varied nominations prompted the hashtag #OscarsLessWhite.
It is important to note that while African-Americans were more widely recognized this Oscars season, there is still prejudice and underrepresentation rampant in Hollywood. The nominations did not include any actors or actresses of Latinx, Asian-American or Pacific Islander heritage, a fact that can largely be attributed to the scarcity of A-list films with diverse casting. Connectedly, the lack of women nominees in the producing and writing categories has prompted a new hashtag, #OscarsSoMale. It is good to celebrate when progress is made, but at the same time it is crucial to recognize that the media still chooses to praise visions of whiteness, maleness, and other attributes that silence other voices.
The movie-watching public must make their desire for more diverse films known, and if the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag taught us anything it is that social media has become an effective way to make our voices heard. Social media activism can be a catalyst for important changes in the media, which can, in turn, influence the way that culture views marginalized individuals and groups.