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89th Academy Awards Breakdown: There’s Still Much Improvement To Be Made

After the Oscar nominations announcement this past Monday I have seen a lot of bold claims that The Academy has learned from their mistakes and pushed open the gates of diversity. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly room for celebration for all the nominees of color at this year’s awards race, but we need to be honest. There’s still a huge diversity problem with the Academy. And sure, one could make the argument that, “well sometimes some white filmmakers out performed minority filmmakers with their roles.” There’s obviously some truth to this statement, but one must remember that white actors and actress are handed more and larger roles, so it’s hard to compete with what little is actually given to us. It’s pivotal that we keep the diversity discussion in motion in order for improvements to continue to be made. Also I have to admit, I do believe that the state of awards shows is a reflection of the current state of Hollywood, so we must also remember to go out and support films by creators of color! Now let’s look at the actual nominees this year and break down how many of them actually are people of color.

Let’s start with the black nominees, because this is where most of this year’s “diversity” shines from:

Denzel Washington – Fences (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Picture)

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight (Best Supporting Actor)

Ruth Negga – Loving (Best Actress in a Leading Role)

Viola Davis – Fences (Best Supporting Actress)

Naomie Harris – Moonlight (Best Supporting Actress)

Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures (Best Supporting Actress)

Bradford Young – Arrival (Best Cinematography)

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay)

Raoul Peck – I Am Not Your Negro (Best Documentary Feature)

Hébert Peck – I Am Not Your Negro (Best Documentary Feature)

Roger Ross Williams – Life, Animated (Best Documentary Feature)

Ezra Edelman – O.J.: Made in America (Best Documentary Feature)

Ava DuVernay – 13th (Best Documentary Feature)

Joi McMillon – Moonlight (Best Film Editing)

Pharell Williams – Hidden Figures (Best Picture)

Kimberly Steward – Manchester by the Sea (Best Picture)

August Wilson – Fences (Best Adapted Screenplay)

Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight (Best Adapted Screenplay)

That’s 18 total nominees out of 206. Some of you may be happy with this number, and honestly I have no quarrels with that! As stated earlier, it’s certainly an improvement. This is a record setting number of black nominations for the acting categories, with six total (doesn’t seem like much when you paint it that way). Each actor and actress is certainly deserving, but I think we should start raising more discussions for POC creators behind the camera. For example, out of the thirty producer nominees for the Best Picture category, only three of them are people of color (all black to be specific). Out of the 13 nominations in both screenplay categories, only three were written by minorities, and once again, they were all black. Barry Jenkins created my favorite film this year and I would love to see more black creators behind the screen so let’s keep the ball rolling in our push for diversity.

Let’s now look at the representation numbers for other minorities.. Here’s the full list for all Hispanic and Latinx filmmakers at this year’s Oscars:

Rodrigo Prieto – Silence (Best Cinematography)

Lin-Manuel Miranda – Moana (Best Original Song)

Andrew Coats – Borrowed Time (Best Animated Short Film)

Lou Hamou-Lhadj – Borrowed Time (Best Animated Short Film)

Juanjo Giménez – Timecode (Best Short Film: Live Action)

Adam Valdez – The Jungle Book (Best Visual Effects)

Richard Alonzo – Star Trek Beyond (Best Make-up and Hairstyling) (pending)

That’s maybe 7 nominations out of 206. The reason I say maybe is because some of these filmmakers do not have much information about them online other than their filmography, so I cannot be completely sure about their ethnicity and I had to use my own intuition. However, for the sake of adding some benefit of the doubt and to demonstrate how little the number actually is, let’s consider them all Hispanic or Latinx. That’s still a very low number with no on-screen representation whatsoever. As a Hispanic myself, I have felt blessed to witness two Mexican winners the past three years for the Best Director category. However, it does sometimes feel like Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González-Iñárritu are the only Hispanic directors the Academy are aware of. Diversity in nominees is good too, instead of the same people over and over (this also means Meryl Streep does not need to be nominated every year).

Want even less confidence in the Academy’s “diversity” push? Let’s take a look at the Asian nominees. Keep in mind just how many cultures Asia actually covers in total:

Dev Patel – Lion (Best Supporting Actor)

Toshio Suzuki – The Red Turtle (Best Animated Feature Film)

Joanna Natasegara – The White Helmets (Best Documentary: Short Subject)

Ai-Ling Lee – La La Land (Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing)

The largest continent in the world only has four nominations at this year’s Oscar race. Maybe. This is granted if I can find some sort of proof that Joanna Natasegara is actually Indonesian (I’m basing off the origin of her last name, but she’s from the U.K. and I could not find any sort of ethnic background information about her online*). Kudos to Dev Patel who remains the third Indian actor in history of the Academy Awards. He’s also the only Asian actor to be nominated this year.

In total I have 29 total nominees for POC out of 206 total. Which is about 14% of out of all the nominees, and I made sure to not count double nominees for the sake of making the percent seem larger than what it is. I did do my best at researching every name listed on The Academy’s website but some names were harder to research than others. The last thing I want to do is erase anyone’s ethnic background, or even add people onto this list that shouldn’t be here, so if you have any corrections please let me know and I’ll make the adjustments. However, I don’t think there’s too many names you can add that would adjust the message that’s painted here. All in all, I’m very happy for all the black filmmakers that got their deserved recognition, but these numbers do make me feel like The Academy translated the backlash from last year as a need for more black nominations specifically (out of the 29 POC nominations, only 11 were non-black). That’s not what true diversity is though. This suggests a world of only black and white and leaves out so many others. This is a step closer to what we want, but only a slight one. I do like that The Academy did do some listening and adjusted the diversity of their board. This change is definitely reflected, but please continue on this path in order to achieve true diversity. Once again, I want to reiterate that I do believe that awards races are a reflection of the industry during its respected time, so we also need to remember to keep fighting for diversity within the field too. For more award representation, we need more industry representation. The best way to do that is to make sure to support films from all over the world, and from creators all around!

UPDATE:* Thank you to a reader for clarifying Joanna’s ethnicity. Her father is Indonesian.




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