The Oscars don’t matter “” we know. They are a political, self-congratulatory, imperfect ceremony which absurdly aspires to rank works of art, as if any objective consensus could be reached. And still, each year millions tune in to watch as Hollywood makes its pick of the year’s best films. And that’s okay “” as The New Yorker’s Richard Brody explains, “It isn’t the movies that don’t matter “” it’s the Oscars.”
Unsurprisingly, diversity has been at the foreground of this award race. The 2016 Oscars were the peak of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, leading to calls to boycott the awards after two years of a notable lack of inclusion in several major categories. This year, the Academy sought to redeem itself by swinging the pendulum far in the opposite direction, issuing numerous nods to films with diverse casts and creators.
The lineup of nominees who are people of color is indeed impressive. The afro-centric “Moonlight” received eight nominations and “Lion” received six, while “Fences” and “Hidden Figures” received four nominations apiece.
“Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins is the second black man to receive a nomination for Best Director, following Steve McQueen’s nomination for “12 Years a Slave” in 2012. “Moonlight” served to break another glass ceiling by making co-editor Joi McMillon the first African-American woman ever to be nominated for Best Film Editing.
This season’s Oscars have already broken several records. “La La Land” has tied “Titanic” and “All About Eve” for most being nominated for most awards, with a total of 14 nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress. “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle was behind 2014 Best Picture nominee “Whiplash,” which is a tonally different yet equally impressive ode to jazz music.
Another record was broken as six non-white actors, including Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Ruth Negga, Mahershala Ali, Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer, were nominated across all acting categories. This is due in part to the fact that several of this year’s top films deal with issues of race relations and discrimination: “Moonlight” is the story of a young black man’s coming of age in Miami, “Hidden Figures” highlights the black women who were instrumental to the success of the Apollo missions and “Fences” is an exploration of race relations and the African-American experience.
Similarly, three of the Best Documentary nominees, “I Am Not Your Negro,” “O.J.: Made in America” and “13th,” directly take on the topic of race in America. “13th” is also noteworthy for having a black woman as director, and for landing Netflix a spot in the Oscars race for the fourth consecutive year. “O.J.: Made in America” is a strong contender for the award, which irked those who believed that the seven-hour-long, made-for-tv documentary should not be eligible in the first place.
Despite this noteworthy burst of inclusion across the top awards categories, we must be weary of letting the Oscars become a black-and-white issue. For that matter, it’s dangerous to let the awards be a barometer for the diversity of the industry in general. Latinos, the largest ethnic minority in the U.S, account for 17 percent of the population, but receive only 5.8 percent of speaking roles.
Best Supporting Actress nominee Octavia Spencer highlighted the monochromatic and gender bias of the awards. “[…] There are a lot more people of color than African Americans […] There’s so much more to diversity than being black or white,” she wrote in an email to USA Today. “I’d like to see diversity in directing “” there are brilliant women directors and cinematographers.”
The 2017 Oscars should serve to remind us that we must not become complacent when it comes to asking for inclusion and equality in every institution. It is an important lesson in the face of the Trump administration. We must not allow ourselves to become content when presented with some grandiose display, but to read between the lines and look for the systemic problems that still prevent some from dreaming of, say, an Academy Award.