These award shows honor diverse communities often overlooked by Oscars, Golden Globes
Six years ago, April Reign unknowingly ignited a movement with one tweet: “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.”
The hashtag trended on Twitter as high-profile celebrities and activists joined Reign in calling attention to that year’s all-white acting nominees.
The Oscars improved in that area this year: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, who selects Oscar honorees, announced the first-ever woman of color nominated for Best Director, Chloé Zhao for the film “Nomadland.”Steven Yeun made history as the first Asian American person to land a Best Actor nomination, and his “Minari” costar Yuh-Jung Youn is the first Korean person nominated for an acting Oscar.
The Golden Globes, on the other hand, faced backlash for their racial makeup at this year’s ceremony. The award selection group, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is “made up of around 90 international — no Black — journalists who attend movie junkets each year in search of a better life,” co-host Tina Fey said in her opening monologue. Several presenters and award recipients quipped about the lack of diversity behind the scenes and onstage.
Pressure has mounted to address the homogeneity of nominees and nominators in mainstream award shows in recent years. From 1980 to 2015, white actors won 84% of Oscars’ men’s categories and 89% of women’s acting awards, according to data scientist Eugene Woo.
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But a lack of diversity is not the case for every media award show.
Award programs outside these two prominent shows dedicate their awards to honoring populations often overlooked by mainstream award shows. They recognize the quality of films and television, and how marginalized groups are represented. The shows foster a space where communities can celebrate themselves and their art.
“All of us that are advocating for underrepresented groups, we all have an award event,” said Deborah Calla, chairperson of the Media Access Awards, which honors films and TV that feature people with disabilities. “They’re spectacular because it tells the people who are winning that we are watching and appreciating what they’re doing. For those not doing that, it reminds them there’s another way to work and it can be just as exciting and successful.”
Here’s a look at award shows that celebrate underrepresented creators, and use their platforms to draw attention to issues facing diverse populations.
Media Access Awards
People with disabilities make up 25% of the population, but they are represented in less than 3% of onscreen roles, according to The Disability List, which the Media Access Awards created in collaboration with several other organizations. The Media Access Awards recognizes people with disabilities on screen, how they portray disability narratives and who fills roles behind the scenes.
Calla had to dig to find writers, directors, actors and more to honor with Media Access Awards after she took over in 2010.
“Two minutes on a TV show was enough to give an award because there was nothing,” Calla said. “But these days it’s like ‘what about this person, that show, that person?’ There are a lot more but still nowhere what we need to reflect this huge group of people.”
Creators may shy away from portraying disabilities out of fear or lack of knowledge about people with disabilities, Calla believes. She said it’s important to hold an award show that honors this population to address people’s misconceptions.
“I really hope that content creators continue to create stories that involve people with disabilities because television and film teaches society how to interact with each other,” Calla said. “With content we can change the world.”
Watch it: Catch the 2021 Media Access Awards at 9 p.m. EST Nov. 18. Check its website for updates on where to watch.
GLAAD Media Awards
Blockbusters that told stories about an LGBTQ person’s experience won major awards in recent years — “Moonlight,” a film that follows a Black gay man’s life from childhood to adulthood, won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2017.
Mainstream media shows are heading in the right direction, but still have a lot to learn, said GLAAD Media Awards Executive Producer Rich Ferraro. GLAAD is an LGBTQ media organization that combats misinformation about the community and advocates for LGBTQ rights.
GLAAD Media Awards, which began in 1990, celebrate fair and inclusive representation of LGBTQ narratives in film, television, journalism, theater and other media “in fair, accurate and inclusive ways would inspire more media outlets to do the same,” Ferraro said.
“We know that what people see in the media has a huge affect in the decisions that are made in schools, in classrooms, in the ballot box, in offices around the country,” Ferraro said. “The founders of GLAAD knew that if we were able to get queer stories in the media … we would be able to change hearts and minds and start to grow acceptance and pave the way for legal equality.”
Along with recognizing media creator’s accomplishments, GLAAD uses its award show stage to shed a global spotlight on LGBTQ issues, moments that are not typically seen in mainstream award shows. They invite household names to speak to key issues facing the community, like actress Betty White who spoke in support of marriage equality at the 2013 GLAAD Media Awards. Madonna presented at the same ceremony dressed in a Boy Scout uniform on stage to protest the organization’s ban on gay members.
Watch it: Stream the 2021 GLAAD Media Awards at 8 p.m. EST April 8 live on GLAAD’s YouTube channel or stream later in the evening on Hulu.
Red Nation International Film Festival
The first Native American to win an Oscar, Wes Studi, accepted his golden statue just two years ago. But Native American filmmakers and actors have produced work for decades. Joanelle Romero landed the first leading role played by a Native American actor in the 1977 film “The Girl Called Hatter Fox.” Romero is now president, CEO and director of the Red Nation International Film Festival and Awards.
Romero founded Red Nation Celebration Institute 25 years ago to celebrate Native American stories and people in movies. Along with the international festival and awards, the institute puts on a Native Women in Film festival during the week prior to the Oscars “so that we’re in front of the industry in one of the most important weeks,” Romero said. Zhao, the director who made Oscar history this year, has shown several films and won awards at previous Red Nation festivals.
The institute also manages Red Nation Television Network, which has been available to stream for 15 years.
Hollywood institutions, like the Academy, that put on mainstream award shows have made “baby steps” toward Native American inclusion with moves like recognizing Studi, but those small movements “no longer hold weight,” Romero said.
Romero is a one of few Native filmmakers to be an Academy member. The Hollywood Foreign Press has even fewer Native American decision-makers, Romero said. The Red Nation Celebration Institute has repeatedly asked to partner with the Academy, to get Native films on mainstream screens and awards. The Academy says “no” each time each time.
“Our institute and our board of directors have created programs, initiatives, award ceremonies and festivals to amplify our contemporary voices in pop culture now. That’s what’s relevant,” Romero said. “These [other] institutes should be looking at the Native organizations that have done the work for years.”
Watch it: The 2021 Red Nation International Film Festivals will run from Nov. 1-30 on Red Nation Television Network and its website, where you can find out more.
Arab Film Fest Collab
Representation of Arab cultures in film has gotten better, said Arab Film and Media Institute Executive Director Serge Bakalian. If you asked him five years ago, though, he would have shared a different opinion.
Viewership of screenings sent to voters and responses to films from Arab states have improved, Bakalian said. Historically, though, media has represented Arab people in “atrocious” stereotypes.
Like Calla, Bakalian believes showcasing Arab narratives is “transformative” for how people understand the array of Arab cultures.
“We use the word ‘Arab’ in the most inclusive manner,” Bakalian said. “It’s so diverse in terms of race, identity, faith. Within that spectrum you’re not looking at a monolithic people. That’s what we’re trying to show in all of our programming and our films.”
Egypt submitted the first Arab film the Oscars considered in 1959, “Cairo Station.” It did not receive a nomination, but the following decade the Academy nominated the first Arabic-language film, “The Battle of Algiers” for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Screenplay and Best Director. By 2010 to 2019, the Academy nominated from six Arab countries they had not selected from content from before.
Bakalian grew up in Beirut, and when he moved to the U.S. he saw film after film set in his birth city told stories that perpetuated Arab stereotypes. He didn’t see himself on the screen.
“When you’re raised, especially for young Arabs, where Arabs are the bad guys, all these stereotypes, when that’s all you see and then you see a film … one that you relate with, that you see a more authentic representation of you and your family and your culture, I think that’s really empowering,” Bakalian said.
Watch it: Organizers have not chosen a final date, but expect to hold the Arab Film Festival in October or November. Check the Arab Film and Media Institute’s website for updates.
Black Reel Awards
Whether it’s a good or bad year for Black representation in film, TV or award shows, “there’s always a place for Black creatives, filmmakers and performers to have their work acknowledged,” Tim Gordon said. That place: the Black Reel Awards, founded in 1999 and led by Gordon.
The Black Reel Awards recognizes independent and international films that span the African diaspora, in English or not, and looks for works by filmmakers who have been in the business for years but never earned awards.
“I think the days of wondering whether or not stories about Black people or stories told through a Black perspective are … going to be told, I don’t worry about anymore because of the influx of directors and new visionaries like Barry Jenkins and Ava DuVernay,” Gordon said. “The next frontier is that we’ve got to pull more women, whether it’s women of color, whether it’s just women in general.”
Gordon believes the Black Reel Awards pick diverse films because the more than 100 members select nominees for the show’s 24 categories.
“There’s no lobbying, there’s not studios calling up our voters trying to get them to change votes,” Gordon said. “People vote their conscience. Year in and year out, we see how that results in things that people feel are the best of a particular year are the things that are honored.”
Watch it: Catch the 2021 Black Reel Awards virtually on April 11 at 8 p.m. EST. Check its website and social media for updates on where to find the show.
Diversity runs in the DNA of Film Independent, the nonprofit that organizes the Spirit Awards, said President Josh Welsh.
That’s in part because anyone passionate about film can become a member for a $95 annual fee and help select the show’s nominees. Black, Indigenous and people of color made up 51% of the Spirit Awards nominations committee in 2020, according to a Film Independent Impact Report.
In contrast, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences must receive invitations to join the voting body, and Hollywood Foreign Press Association applicants must be sponsored by two current members and have several years of entertainment journalism experience.
Spirit Awards leader plan “a ton of outreach and turn every stone to make sure filmmakers know they’re eligible” to make the process “inherently inclusive,” said Associate Director of Nominations Setu Raval.
“[The Spirit Awards are] so much about inspiring audiences and inspiring future artists and filmmakers and storytellers,” Raval said. “The more representation we have, the more young people will choose to be creators and tell their stories.”
It’s important for people to see themselves on screen, and films and TV with the ability to reach millions of viewers are such powerful mediums, Welsh said.
“Knowing there are segments of the population that don’t get to see themselves on screen is just not good,” Welsh said. “That carries over to award shows. It matters who the host is, who the presenters are. Some years we’re better at it than others, we are still committed to working on.”
Watch it: Catch the 2021 Film Independent Spirit Awards at 10 p.m. EST April 22 on IFC.
Asian American International Film Festival
After a successful debut film, marginalized filmmakers face obstacles to create films to follow it, said Wynton Wong, the programming manager for the Asian American International Film Festival. That’s where the film festival steps in.
“We’re trying our hardest to find not only the first-time filmmakers that we think are doing good work and deserve additional resources and time to have their second and third film, but also the filmmakers that have been grinding in the indie scene for decades,” Wong said. “We want to provide name recognition for this film, this evolution of their career.”
The AAIFF award categories this year expanded to honor storytelling. Wong said people of color are usually at the forefront of new formats, and award categories include short-form web, which recognize creations like TikTok videos and Instagram reels. The group also gives awards for video games and virtual reality. Wong said really great storytelling is happening by “the next wave of storytellers” in video game spaces.
“What if you really pushed the boundaries of what form and structure are?,” Wong asked. “Because that’s what we haven’t seen, and if we’re talking about representation, that is much more interesting.”
Watch it: The 2021 Asian American International Film Festival will take place Aug. 11-22 in a hybrid format with primarily virtual and some limited in-person events in New York City. Check out AAIFF’s event website for more information.
NAACP Image Awards
When people think of the NAACP, they likely envision 112 years of racial justice work to gain equity and inclusion for Black Americans — not an awards show.
The NAACP Image Awards are a manifestation of the organization’s year-round efforts, said NAACP Hollywood Bureau Senior Vice President Kyle Bowser. The Hollywood Bureau launched in 2002 after almost no Black people received Oscar nominations.
In 2015, writer and activist April Reign tweeted the first #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, which major celebrities picked up and it that spread across social media, drawing attention to the Academy’s whiteness for years to come.
With that, the NAACP still had a space where they had to push for Black inclusion.
“We put a lot of energy into lobbying the [film] industry, both the infrastructure — those who sort of monetize the art — and the artist community themselves,” Bowser said.
The NAACP Image Awards, like the Black Reel Awards, show Black filmmakers they are appreciated by their own, Bowser said. They continue to press for mainstream recognition, but coming to the Image Awards is like coming home and “getting a warm hug.”
“There’s something very positive, warm and welcoming about the Image Awards, because it’s a community turning inward and saluting itself for things that were well done,” Bowser said.
Watch it: Catch the 2021 NAACP Image Awards on March 27 at 8 p.m. EST on BET
Latin America has become an epicenter of world cinema, leading a generation of Latinx filmmakers to conquer Hollywood in recent years, said Cinema Tropical Executive Director Carlos Gutiérrez. But he believes the U.S. has been slow to assimilate, and Latinx creators’ projects cannot access funding as easily as their counterparts in Latin America.
Cinema Tropical works to promote and award filmmakers the organization feels are not getting the attention they deserve.
“We are going to focus more on films that are pushing the envelope in terms of narrative, Gutiérrez said. “For the most part, looking back [at] the films that have won … they tend to be bolder.”
Cinema Tropical tries to “bridge the cultural experience between Latin America and Latinx people in the U.S.,” Gutiérrez said. The organization dedicates an award category to best Latinx film, along with a Latin American competition, but both showcase “a larger sense of what’s going on in Latin America and also here in the U.S.
Along with giving a platform to an underrepresented population, Cinema Tropical awards “validate” Latinx creators and fantastic work that many mainstream organizations do not showcase, Gutiérrez said.
Watch it: Cinema Tropical’s 2021 award show took place on Jan. 19, and they have not chosen a 2022 date, but say it will likely take place the second or third week of January 2022. Check its website for updates.
Contact Sammy Gibbons at (920) 737-6895 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @sammykgibbons or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ReporterSammyGibbons/.