The 89th Oscars Welcomes Diversity to its Nominations

By ROYAL THOMAS II
On January 30, 2017

Photo courtesy of El Hormiguero, Flickr

The 89th Academy Awards are kicking off the year, which is no different from their annual process. What is different however, is the composition of nominees in each category. 

As the Academy Awards ceremony, the Oscars, celebrates excellence in every aspect of film, one would assume this would lead to a diverse selection of nominees. This assumption, while many would hope to be true, has not been the case.

The previous two Oscar ceremonies, the 87th and 88th, featured no people of color in the nominations for acting. As a result, the hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” was born on Twitter and spread across the Internet. During the weeks leading up to the 88th Oscars ceremony, the hashtag grew in popularity and gathered support by many notable members of Hollywood. Actors of color throughout the industry began to band together and speak out against the awards ceremony’s lack of inclusion, many of them choosing to boycott the event.

It should be noted that the Oscars ceremony has had trouble with inclusion throughout the years. From 1936, the first year that had four acting categories available to win, to 1946 there was merely one person of color nominated out of the 200 nominees.

As time progresses the numbers aren’t as shocking due to the changes in the makeup of the country and strides towards racial equality. However, changes are on the rise.

For instance, beginning in 1975 there was not a single minority nominated for an acting category until 1981, according to The Washington Post. From 1990 to 2000 the number of Oscar nominated actors/actresses reached 17 people out of 200 totaling 8 percent of the nominees.

With the progress made over the many decades since the awards show’s formation in 1929 it is troubling to see the awards show take a step backward rather than forward. The last time there was at least a two-year gap without a single minority nominated was during the five-year-period 1975 to 1980. 

Fast-forwarding to the awards in 2017, major changes have occurred. Minorities this year have been nominated in record fashion as six black actors and actresses have been nominated in the acting categories, a new award ceremony record, as well as one Indian actor nominated in Dev Patel, only the third Indian actor ever nominated.

The reason for the increase in diversity this year compared to the previous two can be attributed to those who voiced their opinion about the previous awards shows.

Head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, heard the outcry of public opinion and made a very promising change.

Membership of the academy received a complete resurgence. The changes made to the academy resulted in a membership class composed of 46 percent female and 41 percent people of color. These numbers represent a drastic change from the 94 percent white and 77 percent male recorded statistics from the Los Angeles Times in 2012. During this time, Isaacs was the only minority within the academy.

This change obviously affects not only the current Oscar awards show, but the many Oscars to come. With more diverse membership inclusion will not be so hard to come by.  

It is important that the performances of these minority actors are recognized because it will shape the future of film. With an existing lack of opportunity for people of color in acting roles, the celebration of such films will have an auspicious effect on the industry. Children of all backgrounds will gain inspiration from people who look like them to chase their dreams. This will lead to films producing both a better representation of society, and an increased quality of movies.

And in the end, that is what the Academy Awards are all about: celebrating excellence.

rthomas7@ramapo.edu

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