After controversy surround the Oscars over the past two years, 2017 seems to have turned things around. In both 2015 and 2016, all 20 of the acting nominees were white, prompting cries of racism and discrimination to be directed at the Academy. This, in turn, prompted a serious examination of the make-up of the voting body, and a change in Academy membership. With the apparent growth in diversity in this year’s nominations, has the Academy overcome the problems it was facing? Or is it all rooted in the films the industry is producing, with this year marking a higher churn out of diverse films?
Seven of the 20 acting nominees this year are not white, suggesting significant progress from the last couple of years, and arguably showing a good array of diversity. A look at this year’s Best Picture nominations also shows a much more diverse range of films produced which focus on the tales of minorities. Four of the nine films nominated centre on non-white characters, hopefully indicating a changing trend in the types of films that are produced. However, this whole debate gives rise to the question of whether the diversity issue is with the Academy snubbing worthy non-white filmmakers, or is there a lack of work to nominate?
Arguably, yes, viable nominees have been snubbed in the past. David Oyelowo for Selma, or Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation are just two examples of recent years where performances gained a lot of buzz and were definitely awards-worthy, yet did not gain an Oscar nod. However, plenty of times this can have been said for white actors too, Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler for example, or Amy Adams in this year’s Arrival (yes, I’m still not over that) were actors completely worth of nominations, yet shut-out. It appears then, that there is also a major issue in terms of the films being produced. There has even been criticism (a lot, unfounded) of some of the other films that they are awash with white characters. Hollywood is not green-lighting enough pictures that tell the stories of minorities – an issue which extends into the realm of gender too. This is also a behind the scenes issue too, and even though there has been an improvement this year, who knows if it is a permanent change?
Similarly, something that often isn’t as focused on is the idea of #Oscarssomale. The seeming (even short-term) progression in racial diversity still doesn’t mean there is little discrimination. The idea of the Oscars as male-dominated is not as talked about, despite it being a consistent issue. Perhaps, this is in part due to most of the attention (especially from casual and non movie fans) is focused on the famous names of acting nominees, where obviously, there is no gender divide due to the separating categories.
In non-acting categories, this year, women account for just 20% of the nominations. It is the seventh year in a row that no woman has been nominated for Best Director, and there has only ever been one female Best Director winner in the Oscars’ 89-year history. Considering women make up half of the world’s population, these statistics are ridiculous.
This is rarely down to snubs, more to women not being hired, showing it is still hard for women to break into the film industry. It’s also not just behind-the-scenes that women are under-represented, but also on screen. Of the nine Best Picture nominees this year, a whopping seven did not pass the Bechdel test (where there are two female characters who are named and have at least one conversation with each other, not about a man), showing a lack of women on screen too.
This is an issue that is down to the industry, but highlighted by the Oscars. The Academy is attacked a lot purely because it emphasises issues it does not cause; yet over the years, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the industry has paid much attention.
Hopefully, this year’s firsts and increases in racial diversity amongst its nominees will be a sign of further progression to come.
Hopefully, we will not see this continued trend in gender imbalance for much longer.