By OGT Blog Squad Volunteer Arrabi Nandakumar
When April Reign, former attorney and current writer/DC-based activist first tweeted “#OscarsSoWhite” in 2016, it sparked a social movement as the hashtag spread through Twitter and news outlets, and led to mass boycotts of the 2016 Oscars. This spurred the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the organization behind the Oscars, to announce in 2016 that it would take measures by which it hoped to double the number of women and minority members by 2020.
Today, there are over 8,000 members of the Academy, with 32% being women and 16% being nonwhite. While this squarely achieved the goal set in 2016 by AMPAS to double their women and nonwhite members by 2020, it hardly amounts to parity or relative representation. In a banner year for representation in film, 31 of the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 cast a person of color in a starring or co-starring role, and women and girls starred or co-starred in 43 of the 100 top-grossing films, a 13-year high. A number of notable films released in 2019 were helmed by women (and women of color). This data would appear to point to improved opportunity and recognition for women and people of color at the 2020 Oscars.
So why did the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag resurface following the announcement of the 2020 Oscar nominations?
Out of 20 lead and supporting actor nominees, Cynthia Ervio was the only person of color to receive a nomination for her starring role in Harriet. Of the five nominees for Best Director, none were women. In the 92-year history of the Oscars, women have only been nominated for Best Director five times. This year did see the first woman-directed film ever nominated for Best Picture: Little Women by Greta Gerwig.
As for the demographics of AMPAS, which votes for the winners of each category, it is 68% male, 84% white, and (as of 2012) the median age of the members was 62 years old. Following the goals set in 2016, the median age of the AMPAS invitee class members has been about 50, which lowers the AMPAS membership median age a bit, but not by much (and membership does not expire). Further compounding the problem, AMPAS members are not required to view all performances before they vote. In light of the 2020 Golden Globes only nominating male directors for awards, as well as the British Acting Film Awards (BAFTAs) only nominating white actors and male directors, the 2020 Oscars could claim they are merely following the lead of other highly-publicized awards shows. But there’s much more AMPAS could be doing to address their diversity gap.
Audience favorites may suggest where the Academy could be putting its attention. Just Mercy, starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, has earned a glowing 99% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as 6 NAACP Image Award nominations. Harriet was nominated for two Oscars, two Golden Globes, and one Screen Actors Guild award, but more telling, it earned a 97% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. With as much popularity among audiences as these films have, why are they not receiving similar attention from the Oscars and other major awards?
With an increasingly diverse field of films to pick from, the Oscars seem to have taken a step backwards. Despite the diversity improvement numbers they have achieved on paper, the 2020 Oscar nominations prove that AMPAS still has a long way to go until #OscarsSoWhite is retired. Until then, the strides in diversity and representation in Hollywood, films, and AMPAS members are a testament to the power of grassroots social movements—from hashtags, to boycotts, to organizational policy enactment.
A NOTE FROM CAITLIN:
While Old Greenbelt Theatre can’t do anything to change the composition of AMPAS, we do our best to show films that will be of interest to everyone in our diverse Prince George’s County community. You can help too! First and foremost by supporting films with diverse casts, filmmakers, and production teams. Box office returns dictate who gets hired and what projects get picked up, and you as an audience member can vote with your dollars. Also, we invite you to suggest movies to us that you feel may be overlooked. We’re committed to doing our part to drive gender and racial parity in filmmaking.
Arrabi Nandakumar is a student at the University of Baltimore, pursuing a Master’s in Integrated Design, and holds a Bachelor’s in English from the University of Maryland. She loves the thriving arts scenes in both Baltimore and the DC metro area, and hopes to work towards a career in communications. When she isn’t reading, writing, or keeping a look out for local artists, she enjoys roller derby, improv, and gushing at every dog she encounters.