In 2019, 26.2 million Americans watched the Oscars live. The event, centered around an award ceremony and complemented by red carpet photo shoots and extravagant performances, celebrates and recognizes the previous year’s top films as defined by members of the US-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Oscar parties, viewing events, and the next day’s “best and worst dressed celebrities” headlines prove that the award ceremony carries a decent amount of weight in not only the film industry, but in American culture, and beyond.
The mission of the Academy – to advance motion pictures – and its global prominence leads to having a high level of responsibility to represent well the hard work of the diverse film industry, and the people working in it, in the prior year. This is a responsibility which the Academy consistently fails to meet. For years the Academy has been on the receiving end of harsh criticism for the dominance of white men among the nominees and winners of each year’s most prestigious film awards. The Academy, made up of nearly 9,000 people, has 16% minority members and 32% females. Both, however, are numbers the Academy has been working to raise in recent years.
The 2019 Oscars felt like a jump and a leap in the right direction for diversity in nomination and wins, when films with queer storylines like “The Favourite” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” took home wins alongside black actors Mahershala Ali for “Green Book” and Regina King for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Despite 2019’s encouraging event, 2020’s trending hashtags of #OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoMale, and #OscarsSoStraight prepared both viewers and artists for a less colorful night.
Where the Academy often fails in terms of inclusion and diversity, the stars have, more prominently in recent years, begun to use their voice to draw attention to these flaws. Natalie Portman arrived on the red carpet sporting a cape embroidered with the name of each female director who did not receive a nomination this year. Likewise, Steve Martin and Chris Rock used their airtime to address the lack of diversity in sex and race, as did many of the presenters and winners.
Not a single female director was nominated in the category of “Best Director” and actor Cynthia Erivo was the only black nominee for her work in “Harriet.” This was tough to swallow, especially with widely acclaimed work by people like Director Greta Gerwig on “Little Women” and Actor Eddie Murphy in “Dolemite is My Name.” However, nods to Greta and attention to Cynthia as the only black nominee were sprinkled throughout the show.
Also slim in numbers were the two queer artists nominated for Oscars this year, both gay men. Dean DeBlois for Best Animated Feature, “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” went home with a trophy as did Elton John for Best Song in Rocketman, “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.” Aside from Rocketman, the only other queer story nominated was “Pain and Glory” with Antonio Banderas portraying out, gay director Pedro Almodovar.
Banderas lost to Joaquin Phoenix for “Joker” who, when accepting his award addressed the injustices visible at the Oscars. “I see commonality. I think whether we’re talking about gender and equality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice,” Phoenix said. This loss meant that queer people and storylines were left out of all five major categories for the 2020 Oscar wins. Similarly, women were left out of major categories aside from the ones specifically dedicated to them. A lack of nominations for women and black and queer people does not correlate to a lack of female-directed films, black actors, or queer storylines created in the last year.
The divide of best female and male awards raises the question, if the categories were nonbinary, would the nominees look like those who were up for Best Director this year? Or would we see space open up for nonbinary folks? With its current track record, probably the former, leaving the current binary set up as one which ensures more diversity, despite being thoroughly uninclusive of intersex and non-binary people.
While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is seemingly turning a blind eye, it is alarmingly clear to the rest of the world that the Oscars is another environment dominated by straight, white men. With rival award ceremonies like the Golden Globes and the Emmy Awards showing an increase in diversity in recent years, and the Oscars’ own award winners loudly challenging their shortcomings, the Oscars’ legitimacy is waning. A record low 23.6 million tuned in to watch last Sunday. If met with continued challenges, the Academy will be forced to reevaluate their voting process or, lose credibility and viewers.
At least we got these six minutes from Janelle Monáe and Billy Porter...
Published on February 11, 2020 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization