Perhaps you recall the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, which first surfaced in January 2015, when an upset April Reign, managing editor for BroadwayBlack.com, first tweeted of her frustrations at the season’s announcement of Oscar nominations. The hashtag went viral as that year, every single nomination for a leading and supporting actor/actress category was a white person. The following year? All 20 slots, still white. Nothing changed. Let me make one thing clear - the issue is not a lack of talent, the issue is a lack of representation.
Diversity is not a box to be checked; throwing people of color into the nomination pool just to pacify the uproar is like throwing on a hat to conceal a bad hair day.
You’ve got to get to the root of the issue (pun always intended). Before the premiere dates, before filming, before the casting calls and auditions, who is in the room where it happens? If the same big-wigs and executives that green-light ideas, sign off on budgets, and hire those they’ve always hired continue to operate under the same guise and pattern they’ve always operated under, how could one expect a new year with suddenly different results?
As a person of color and actress myself, I see representation spelled as “opportunity”. Are people of color having access to the same opportunities as their fellow peers, whether they be studio heads, producers, casting directors, screenwriters, actors or actresses? This question demands an answer as the one that follows looms near: Are people of color afforded the opportunity to see themselves represented, normalized, acknowledged, and celebrated in movies as their white peers have been able to for years? Intrinsic in positive change is a shift forward, and it is this movement forward that yields results.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, former president of the Academy as well as the first African-American and third woman in her position, together with the Academy voters of 2016 vowed to double the number of women and minority members by 2020. A celebration of this notion is a celebration of a positive shift not only in Hollywood, or at the Academy Awards, but in culture.
This year’s nominations are a nod to how we, along with the generations to come after us, will continue to see a beautifully well-rounded, tangible representation of the diverse and colorful world as we know it.
Here are a few names and nominations from this year’s Academy Awards that excite me and dare me to believe that #OscarsSoWhite could quite possibly never have to trend again.
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
26-year-old Yalitza Aparicio’s acting debut in Alfonso Cuarón’s Netflix film, Roma, garnered her an Oscar nomination for lead actress, making her the first ever Indigenous woman to be nominated for that category in Oscars history. She also is the first Latina woman to be nominated in that category since Catalina Sandino Moreno was nominated for her role in Maria Full of Grace 14 years ago (fourth overall).
Aparicio plays a domestic worker in Mexico City in the 1970s, and spoke to the LA Times about what Indigenous women often have as obstacles before them, whether it be cinema or society as a whole. “I want to believe that in the future, they will continue to include more and more people like me,” quoted in an interview she did with the LA Times. “So that someone else can look at it and say, ‘Hey I look like her.’” Roma is also tied with 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with 10 total Oscar nominations - the most ever for a foreign language film.
Spike Lee, Black KkKlansman
In 1989, Spike Lee directed his first feature film, Do the Right Thing, which was critically acclaimed, and introduced the world to the outspoken and unapologetic nature of Lee’s person and art. And though the director has since seen an Academy Honor Award in 2015, along with various nominations and accolades, this year marks Lee’s first Best Director nomination for Black KkKlansman. The film, which stars Adam Driver and John David Washington (the son of fellow actor, the beloved Denzel Washington), is comedic and pointed, based on the real life story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to work for the Colorado Springs police department in the 1970s. Lee is the sixth black person to be nominated in the Best Director category.
Domee Shi, Bao
14 years later is a long time to wait for a sequel to your favorite animated superhero movie, and 19 Pixar short films is a long time to wait for a female director. But that’s exactly what we got with Bao, the animated short film that appeared right before Incredibles 2 played in theatres, and it’s the first time a Pixar short has been directed by a female. Bao, nominated for Best Animated Short, is a story inspired by Shi’s own childhood, raised as a Chinese-American in Toronto by her two parents, Chinese immigrants. The short resounded with many families, specifically those that also don the immigrant parent and child story.
Hannah Beachler, Black Panther
Wakanda forever is not just a trope, it is the truth. And the truth is that with Black Panther being the highest grossing film of 2018 by a landslide, earthquake, and tornado, the cultural phenomenon and predominantly black cast earned their rightful place with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. But Black Panther, directed by Fruitvale Station’s Ryan Coogler, makes history as the first superhero film to be nominated in this category, which is a significant feat within itself. Cause for more celebration continues for the film’s production designer, Hannah Beachler, who became the first African-American to receive a nomination in the Best Production Design Category. Beachler worked with Coogler previously on Fruitvale Station and Creed, along with Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight and Beyoncé’s stunning visual album, Lemonade.