Academy Awards still lack representation of marginalized communities
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On March 27, the biggest names in the film industry will gather at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater, praying for their name to be enclosed in a legendary golden envelope and receive the 13.5-inch tall, 8.5-pound golden statue: an Oscar.
Long considered the crown jewel of awards season, the Oscars have maintained a prestigious reputation for recognizing cinematic brilliance. Despite this, marginalized communities have been continually excluded from the Oscars.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has tried to lift the curtain on this lack of representation in recent years, notably in 2016 after the social media campaign #OscarSoWhite, which prompted aggressive diversification efforts by the Academy.
The largest of these efforts was their inclusion goal: to double the number of women and voters of color by 2020. The Academy succeeded in this goal by doubling its number of female members from 1,446 in 2016 to 3,179 in 2020 and tripling the number of members of color from 554 to 1,787. In 2021, a record-breaking number of Black nominees and winners were selected. However, it is important to note that even with the admission of these new members, only 19% of the voting body are people of color and only 33% of Oscar voters are female.
Seldom does the conversation of representation extend to the technical, behind-the-scenes categories. Because of this, the same diversifying progress that appears to have been made in popular categories like Best Picture and Best Actor/Actress has not been evenly distributed to all creative aspects of the film industry.
Take this year’s nominations for example — a mere two years after the Academy introduced its diversity and inclusion initiatives, all of the 2022 nominees for Best Cinematography are white, and only one of them is female. Another technical category, Best Visual Effects, is dominated by white male nominees.
Even in the on-screen categories, there are only four people of color nominated for acting awards, contrasting last year’s nine, and none of those women are nominated in the Best Actress category. In fact, the only woman of color to take home the award for Best Actress was Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” in 2002, 20 years ago.
In discussing Black representation at the Academy Awards, Charisse L’Pree, an associate professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, said that there is a dire need for voices of marginalized communities in all facets of film’s creative process, not just what we see on the screen.
“I understand that on-screen triggers the conversation. … I would really like for that to go deeper, but it never does,” L’Pree said. “Because it never does, we drift into this wave where it’s like, ‘Oh we need to have a whole lot of Black representation,’ but we’re not changing anything else in the institution.”
L’Pree has done extensive research into the relationship between media, representation and its impact on the human psyche. Their work particularly focuses on marginalized demographics and sexualities, they said.
They said they believe that, without systemic inclusion in all areas of creative and production cinema, any positive change the industry attempts to implement will be fleeting. Hollywood will remain trapped in an endless cycle of being called out then attempting broad changes, but, because the changes are surface-level, institutions like the Academy will revert back to the same problems they sought to solve, until the cycle begins again.
The professor said that because of the deeply collaborative nature of filmmaking, such institutional changes would promote improved representation in all areas of the industry as well as earn them accolades like an Academy Award.
“If you don’t have somebody who knows how to light dark skin, then you’re not going to be able to get the awards because the film itself will not be as pretty to look at,” L’Pree said. “White people may not know the unique tasks in lighting a diverse skin tone cast. … So all of these things feed on each other and if you don’t make change everywhere, then the topical change that you do make, won’t hold.”
L’Pree said movies should be “for the people, by the people” and because of that, they have a duty and responsibility to represent all people, even marginalized ones.
Calling awareness to these matters is the first step in the direction of inclusivity, L’Pree said. Continued, relentless pursuits are required if we ever hope to see true, lasting change.
Published on February 27, 2022 at 11:24 pm