On February 9th, the film Parasite broke the glass ceiling of the film industry by becoming the first ever foreign film to win “Best Picture.” Directed by South Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon Ho, the movie explores the themes of greed and classism between two different families. Despite the success of this non-English film, however, the Academy remains under fire for lack of diverse nominees. From the exclusively male nominations for best directors, to the shockingly low number of nominees of color, can the film industry ever foster a diverse community?
This recent public outcry is reminiscent of the 2015 and 2016 twitter trend “#OscarssoWhite,” which called out the Academy for its long history of being mostly male and white dominated. When the trend first gained steam, the Academy was 92% white and 75% male — that year not a single person of color was nominated for the four best-acting roles. Today, with the power of the viral “#OscarssoWhite”, the Academy has experienced incremental change to 84% white and 68% male. While this shift has diversified the nominees of recent awards ceremonies, the majority of the 9,000-member voting pool remains of the same demographic. April Reign, Creator of the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter Trend, spoke of this slow progression as a cause of the “unfortunate, but not all surprising” 2020 Oscars. Reign revealed how she was “disappointed that so many talented filmmakers were not going to be acknowledged and recognized by their peers.” Indeed, many highly-acclaimed films that featured predominately non-white casts, including Just Mercy, The Farewell and Clemency, failed to be nominated and acknowledged by Hollywood’s elite. According to Reign, the problem with a homogenous voting pool is that it limits what parts of American life are canonized; the result is that the majority of films that receive accolades are centered around the white-male experience.
So where does the industry give room to recognize the cinematic accomplishments of people of color? This year, Cynthia Ervio was nominated for best actress in her role as Harriet Tubman in the movie Harriet. But while she was acknowledged for her performance, her nomination also follows the trend where black women are only praised for their roles in narratives of trauma, enslavement or poverty. For instance, Lupita Nyong’o won best supporting actress for her role as an enslaved woman in 12 Years a Slave, but wasn’t even nominated for her lead role in the acclaimed thriller Us. Similarly, the film that won “Best Picture” in 2019, Greenbook, was considered by many to be problematic in its alleged historical inaccuracy and theme of white saviorism.
Ultimately, Hollywood and the Academy have yet to truly diversify their industry. While gradual steps have been made, if the Academy does not widen the narratives they choose to canonize, they will continue to be a homogenous community. But it is not just an elite group in the film industry that needs to shift their perspectives; as readers, movie-watchers, and media consumers, we too have the power to decide what narratives we give our attention to. As we anticipate upcoming releases and await next year’s Oscars, consider the narratives and stories you choose to explore – are you challenging the industry or conforming to it?