The Oscars Missed Their Chance to Increase Diversity

By Katherine L. ’20

Imagine this: it’s 2015. The annual Oscars nominations have just been announced, and you are shocked to find that not a single person of color has been nominated for an acting award. Now flash forward to 2020. That number has increased to… wait for it… one.

Five years after the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral, the 2020 nominations proved that the Academy has made virtually no progress in diversifying its awards. Not only was only one of twenty acting nominees a person of color, but there was a grand total of zero women nominated for Best Director. In a year saturated with diverse and talented creators, why are the Oscars still dominated by white men?

You might answer this question by saying, “Well, the most deserving individuals just happen to be white men.” But that’s simply not true. Of the many female directors snubbed of nominations this year, Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Lorene Scarfaria (“Hustlers”) and Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) were all worthy of Best Director.

This is not a new phenomenon. In 91 years of the Oscars, only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director, one of whom has won. Not only does this history deprive female directors of the recognition they deserve, but it also has a lasting impact on the filmmaking industry. As of 2019, there were twenty male directors for every female director. Studios don’t have enough confidence in these women to hire them, and that’s something the Academy can change through representation.

But female directors were not the only hole in the 2020 Oscars ballot. Given the number of successful films starring people of color in 2019, there were very few acknowledged by the Academy. Blockbusters such as “Dolemite is my Name,” “The Farewell,” “Us,” “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Queen and Slim” were all excluded from the film categories. It’s also worth noting that in recent years, the Academy has been criticized for only recognizing black actresses who have played women dealing with extreme trauma, like poverty or slavery. For example, the only black actress nominated in 2020 was Cynthia Enviro, who was nominated for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman in “Harriet”.

The unfortunate reality is that the lack of diversity on the Oscars ballot stems from the lack of diversity in the Academy itself. 32% of the Academy’s membership is female and 16% are people of color, so it’s no surprise that the majority of this year’s nominated films reflect the experiences of white men. To its credit, the Academy made an effort to diversify its membership in response to the backlash against the 2015 Oscars nominations. Their primary goal was to double the number of diverse members, including women, by 2020. Although it’s unclear whether or not they succeeded, the Oscars have not reflected any change. Cece Woo ’20 commented, “I think efforts to be more inclusive to women and people of  color have been rather sporadic; while I do believe there has been progress within the past few years, it has not been consistent.”

Despite this lack of progress, there is reason to believe that the filmmaking industry will become more diverse in the coming years. For example, five of the Fandango’s top ten most anticipated films of 2020 are directed by and starring women. Another source of hope is that well-known actors and actresses are beginning to actively support female directors. J. Abrams, Tessa Thompson, Bryce Dallas Howard, Reese Witherspoon, and Jordan Peele have all publicly stated that they plan on working with more female directors in the future. Evidently, the Academy is a step behind the rest of the industry.

Now imagine this: it’s 2030. The annual Oscars nominations have just been announced, and you are pleased to find that the nominees include more women and people of color than ever before. Their talent is finally being recognized. With a full commitment on the Academy’s part to their diversifying effort, this vision could become a reality.