In a post-Weinstein Hollywood, conscious efforts are being made to avoid further scandals, and the elephant in the room is finally being addressed, with even Seth Meyers, host of this year’s Golden Globes touching on the issue in his opening speech, and#Oscarssodiverse marks an important shift in how we award diversity being alluded to or addressed in many of the acceptance speeches. Colour is becoming more visible this award season, accompanied by the hashtag #OscarsSoDiverse.
Two years ago the Oscars came under fire with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The following year saw a record number of nominations for people of colour, and in 2018 , the hashtag #OscarsSoDiverse is trending. However, as Kaluuya of Get Out notes when speaking to Variety Magazine, “I think all the diversity is not a step forward but a step in to a present.”
The Oscars this year showcases much more representative categories. Historically, nominees for the acting and directing categories were predominately white, and the films nominated tended to be conservative in nature, reflecting the make-up of the Academy voters. In 2018 we are seeing nominations for director Guillermo del Toro and actors Denzel Washington, Daniel Kaluuya, Octavia Spencer, and Mary J Blige. Dee Rees makes history as only the second black woman to be nominated for best adapted screenplay for Mudbound, and notably, director Jordan Peele makes history as the third person ever and first African American to receive nominations in three categories for his film, Get Out.
What is remarkable is the success of Get Out, a film explicitly premised on racial divisions, which manages to be both satirical, fascinating and horrific whilst playing with themes that are considered taboo in American political and social life. In this film, the white people are wholly evil; they fetishise and enslave the bodies of black people.
Peele and the actors in Get Out are vocal about the commentary their film makes on race relations in America. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Kaluuya stated that Peele tapped into a “universal black truth, navigating the western world” where “white people say weird stuff to you”.
The film consciously speaks to the ‘well-meaning’ white American who wants to let you know that they would have voted for Barack Obama a third time. As Kaluuya goes on to note, the new version of this sentiment, ironically, is “I’ve seen Get Out three times”. The film plays with colour in America,making an important statement about institutional and casual racism in America. It is difficult to imagine a Hollywood that would have commended such a truly black comedy two years ago.
This week Black Panther, the latest Marvel movie, was released with not one but all main characters being black, a black director and black female leading characters, including Lupita Nyong’o (Star Wars, 12 Years a Slave). They take centre stage in a superhero movie, a genre that has typically been dominated by white males. The picture even explores African history. The calls for more diversity and recognition from minority groups are finally being answered. The buying power is as undeniable as the demand for films that celebrate heroes who look like all of us. Such films would have been unimaginable to any child from my generation but are becoming part of reality today.
Colour in Hollywood is now being addressed, but it is not yet ‘solved’. People of colour have long been snubbed in Hollywood, and the lack of consistent, leading, and well-rounded roles for women and men of colour continues to be remarked on by those in the film industry. Watching previous Oscar ceremonies you will see women of color nominated and winning,, Supporting actress Oscars can be bestowed upon them, but leading roles are reserved for whites. This may well be finally changing, but it is no coincidence that only a handful of leading roles in big budget films are given to women of colour to this day.
This year definitely takes steps to be celebrated, but there is still a lack of roles for actors of colour. Latinos are absent from almost all the categories, with Salma Hayek missing out on a nomination for her role in Beatriz at Dinner. Hayek herself never felt she would make it as a Latino actor in Hollywood. The National Hispanic Media Association said in a statement on their Twitter that they would address the institutional racism in Hollywood “by targeting the Academy Awards, we’re serving notice to the motion picture industry that we’re not asking for equity any more. We’re demanding it.” This has spawned a further hashtag, #LatinosLeftOut
The move towards diversity in the Academy Awards may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, but awards are an important expression of what and who we value in our society. In the tumultuous times of social change that we live in, shifts like these can easily be reversed. As more voice via representation is given to groups that were historically oppressed and underrepresented, such a reversion will become increasingly difficult.