Lets Talk: Diversity at the 91st Academy Awards

In the words of Best Actress recipient at the 90th Academy Awards, Frances McDormand “I’ve got some things to say!“. This is a topic area I am extremely passionate about and I certainly have a lot of robust thoughts and opinions to express! Lets start with unpacking what diversity truely means in this context. Today, we are living in a multicultural world where an abundance of beautiful and diverse cultures, people and ideas co-exist and are being exposed to the public daily, than every before, rather than being omitted and swept under the rug. While there is a large amount of work to still be done, we are certainly on the right track in Hollywood! Increasing numbers of diverse stories are being brought to the forefront of conversation and being undertaken for film projects. If you are still confused, I will phrase it like this; If our world is made up of this countless array of diversity, then why shouldn’t our movie screens be a representation of that diversity. Exclusivity only breeds isolation, and there has never been a greater time than now, to be unified rather than divided. In saying this, I do not believe that gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality or any of those terms should take preference over merit in an awards show. However, I do think that if more opportunities were given to people of these minorities, then it would be far more likely that a diversity equilibrium could be reached, whilst still maintaining the talent-based merit system.

The 91st Oscars yesterday displayed this new age of diversity exceptionally well, with a mixture of diverse presenters, nominees and award recipients. An early example can be seen through Rayka Zehtabchi, the first Iranian American woman to win an Oscar. She co-won ‘Best Documentary Short’ for directing ‘Period. End of Sentence’. This documentary short discussed and exposed the issue of menstrual equality in India. It uncovered the stigma and shame that young girls undergo as females in their communities due to their periods, and the restrictions on the opportunities given to them for that reason.  Producer Melissa Berton ended the crews acceptance speech with a powerful line “A period should end a sentence, not a girls education“. In addition Domee Shi is Pixars first female director to win ‘Best Animated Short’ for the Original Short ‘Bao’. The previous directors of Pixar animated shorts have all been men, and so it was refreshing to see some gender diversity in that regard!

During the night ‘Best Actor’ went to Rami Malek, who now is the first Arab American and Egyptian to win ‘Best Actor’. His acceptance speech included paying homage to his roots as the “son of Egyptian immigrants” and his status as a “first generation American“. Malek won for his powerful lead portrayal of Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury. Malek stated “We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself.” His acceptance speech was a tribute to the diversity we are seeing displayed right now in Hollywood, and the continued need and desire for similar stories, to be funded and produced constantly in Hollywood. “Part of my story is being written now” he spoke, which only reinforces the positive impact that this newfound diversity is having on both actors and audiences alike.

Additionally, there was also a tonne of diversity for people of colour! Peter Ramsey became the first black recipient of the ‘Best Animated Feature’ Oscar for for co-directing ‘Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse’. Ruth E. Carter & Hannah Beachler became the first black women to win ‘Costume and Production Design’ for ‘Black Panther’, whilst also becoming the first black women to win in a non-acting category in 35 years (A statistic I found shocking)! Probably some of the most exciting wins for diversity of the night, especially for African American’s, came from Mahershala Ali and Regina King’s awards, as they both won the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ and ‘Best Supporting Actress’ for their supporting roles in ‘Green Book’ and ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, respectively.

In addition ‘BlackKklansman’ was nominated for ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best adapted Screenplay’, to which it’s Director Spike Lee took home the latter. The other big surprise to see at the Oscars this year, was the praise and nominations for ‘Black Panther’. It was nominated for many awards, including the prestigious ‘Best Picture’. This was one of the most monumental movies of 2018, which featured a nearly all-black cast and broke down barriers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whilst setting a path for diversity in all superhero movies to come. It now remains the ninth highest grossing film worldwide, proving that diversity isn’t just for show, but it profits too! Last night it took home ‘Best Costume Design’, ‘Best Production Design’ and Best Original Music Score’.

Mexican representation was also on display during the night, from the Red Carpet to the stage itself, through Roma’s countless nominations. ‘Roma’ is a story is based around Cleo, a young Mexican domestic worker and her life during 1970’s Mexico (It is on Netflix if you are interested in watching). Roma’s had nominations in all areas including Yalitza Aparicio being nominated for ‘Best Actress’ and her co-star Marina de Tavira who was nominated in the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ category. However, most notably, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón took home the award for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Cinematography’, while the film also took home ‘Best Foreign Language Film’. These nominations and awards, not only bring diversity and representation for Mexican people, but due to its foreign language aspect, can bring a sense of representation to other individuals who are apart of Latin America!

In summary, diversity and inclusion in film is an extremely important tool that allows marginalised and formerly isolated groups in society to be given a voice and a platform to speak their truth, represent others like themselves and encourage further support for diverse stories. There is no shortage of talent in these minority groups and last night only further displayed that. If you do not believe me, watch some of the movies mentioned above and find out for yourself. Just to put in perspective how important the show of diversity at last nights ceremony really was; In 2015, not a single non-white actor was nominated in the acting categories! In turn, this was a major step up in that sense. However, other minorities still lack a voice in this industry and to quote the wonderful Viola Davis “You cannot win an Oscar for roles that are simply not there“. Thus, we need to boost the opportunities for all different and diverse societal groups but starting at the very beginning. Production companies need to invest in diverse storylines because that is the only true way that we can provide a true and honest representation of our diverse and multicultural world through film. The Oscars are only a small part in the ‘Big Picture’.

– Joshie

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