The Oscars’ Path to a More Inclusive Award Ceremony

Tuesday, March 23

By Rocio Mourelos

Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman showed up at the Oscars 2020’s red carpet with one of the most beautiful dresses I’ve ever seen. Despite this, she wore above it a huge jacket with some details written in gold: the names of Loren Scafania, Lulu Wang, Greta Gerwing, Mariele Heller, Mati Diop, Melina Matsoukas, Alma Harel, and Celine Sciamma were embroidered in the flat of Dior’s piece of clothing art. Those were the names of the female directors who hadn’t been nominated for Best Director last year, even though their movies were positively criticized by those who call themselves film specialists but, as in every award ceremony, male directors seem to have been better than them.

On February 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first African-American to win the statuette. However, he was not allowed to share the same table with the rest of the cast of Gone with the Wind, due to the segregationist policies of the hotel where the event took place and he had to sit in a corner of the ceremonial hall. At the end of the gala, the entire film team went to a club to celebrate the award-winning night -10 Oscars-, but McDaniel could not enter the reception, as this site was very strict with its policy of not allowing entry to black people.

It took 50 years for another black woman, Whoopi Goldberg, to win another statuette in the same category.

2015. 75 years after Hattie McDaniel’s victory, things started to change for the most known award ceremony. #OscarsSoWhite began to be a trend thanks to every one (both actors, actresses, directors and film employees, and the public) that insisted that those old, misogynist times were over. #OscarsSoWhite rewrote the narrative in an industry with entrenched disparities. The fact that 92 percent of top film directors were men and 86 percent of top films featured white actors in the lead roles — a pattern dating back decades — did not often dominate entertainment news, least of all on Hollywood’s biggest night.

On Jan. 15, 2015, the academy awarded all 20 acting nominations to white actors for the first of two consecutive years, inspiring April Reign to create the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Reign, then a campaign finance lawyer and pop-culture-obsessed contributor to a loose community of black Twitter users, was hardly a Hollywood power broker. But her words, coming on the heels of #BlackLivesMatter, erupted like a big bang, creating the conditions for a constellation of social movements — from #WhiteWashedOUT for Asian representation to Time’s Up for gender parity — that intensified media attention on the industry’s treatment of historically marginalized groups.

After years of fighting against Oscars’ tendency of giving every award to a heterosexual, white man, things have begun to change throughout the last years. In the movie business, nothing is feared like bad press, and by 2016 timeworn incentive structures had begun to tilt in favor of increased diversity in front of and behind the camera. Films like Get Out, Black Panther, and Coco drove a multicultural gold rush at the box office as well as the Oscars, where a record 13 winners of color took home awards in 2019 alone.

Faced with this reality, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that delivers the awards, announced that by 2024 the films that want to aspire to the highest recognition, Best Film, must comply with requirements that seek greater representation and inclusion of people who belong to ethnic, racial, sexual orientation and/or disabled minorities, both in front of the camera and behind it. Different artistic departments are invited to be led or made up of at least 30% of the indicated communities and the possibility is added that the departments headed by women count.

It’s unbelievable that after 93 ceremonies of racism and misogyny, the Academy has revised its rules and thought that they weren’t that good. How many movies, performers, and producers had been left in the past for this Oscars’ negativity and hate to minorities? Isn’t this extremely unfair?

Hopefully, things will start changing for good. And, instead of having their name written on Natalie Portman’s outfit, those female directors will be raising statuettes soon.

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