Diversity and inclusion at the Oscars with Ernesto Acevedo-Munoz
Title image: CC photo by Jernej Furman
The 94th Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, will honor the best films of the year on March 27, at 6 p.m. MDT. The Oscars have a long history of bestowing international recognition and prestige to the best movies of each year.
In recent years, though, the Oscars have gained a reputation of poor diversity and inclusion among its winners and nominees. Changes have been made, but is it enough?
Ernesto Acevedo-Munoz, a professor of cinema studies and moving image arts at CU Boulder, authored the 2013 book, West Side Story as Cinema: The Making and Impact of an American Masterpiece and, more recently, sat on the consulting board of Steven Spielberg’s rendition of West Side Story (up for seven Academy Awards this year).
In this Q&A, Acevedo-Munoz shares the historical significance of the Oscars, the changes the academy has made to become more diverse and what they have to continue to do in terms of inclusivity.
What is the historical significance of the Oscars?
In 1927, the academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was invented to give awards to the people in the industry, in part, as a form of legitimacy, but also as a marketing tool. People were infatuated with the concept of the movie star, which was also an invention of the 1920s and helped skyrocket the popularity of the Oscars.
It’s also worth noting, for 80 years, 99% of people in the academy were white men. And to join the academy, you had to be invited by a previous Oscar winner or nominee or member of the academy. These white members would only invite other white members, and it became a cycle.
The Academy Awards have a history of honoring white actors. How has the academy evolved in recent years to be more inclusive?
The academy has evolved somewhat in the last few years due to pressure from the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. As an institution historically populated by elderly, white heterosexual men, this pressure led the academy to open up its admission ranks and accept more people from different backgrounds.
By opening up its ranks and adjusting the process of how someone joins the academy, there are now more members than ever. While there’s still a long way to go to show more diversity and inclusion, the fact that these numbers have grown has a direct correlation to which movies are given certain nominations and winning.
How do the 2022 Oscars compare in terms of diversity?
This year’s Oscars show positive progress, but when it comes to actual numbers, there has been very little change in terms of demographics. While we have had more viewpoints and representation in movies and television, the field is still disproportionately white.
Our nation’s demographics have shifted, and within the next few decades, our country will be made up of a majority of minority groups. That has yet to be reflected in the people we see in the movies or people who are making these movies. The Oscars can only do so much. It starts with having more diverse people in the movies and making the movies.
In what other ways does the academy still need to improve?
The academy needs to improve enormously in how it markets itself, and I think it needs to redefine its function. The Oscars have been losing viewership over the past two decades or so because fewer and fewer people really understand the true function of the academy or the Oscars. It’s become so concentrated on niche markets and smaller movies that few people have seen.
The movies that deserve respect and recognition are getting lost in the shuffle. It’s time to reassess and restate why the Oscars are important, because no one remembers why they should care about the Oscars other than what they see and hear through marketing.
What is the significance of three women—Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall—hosting this year?
It is significant that we have three women, two of whom are well-known stand-up comedians who can own a room without holding their breath. It is also paradoxical and to me, looks like a gimmick. The academy knows they are in trouble, so, from the outside, it looks like they decided to choose three women to help them look like they are being a lot more progressive than they really are. Either way, I welcome the gesture on the lineup.