The protagonists of "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" cover their face from the wind on the beach. The 2019 film was praised for being told through the "female gaze": female director, female cinematographer, female screenwriter, mostly all female cast. (Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Reporter)
The protagonists of "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" cover their face from the wind on the beach. The 2019 film was praised for being told through the "female gaze": female director, female cinematographer, female screenwriter, mostly all female cast.

Photo courtesy of Santa Fe Reporter

The film industry slowly becomes more diverse, but the Academy Awards are still behind

April 23, 2020

In the past decade, moviegoers have been pushing for more diverse representation at the Academy awards. However, in 2020, only one person of color was nominated in an acting category, only male directors garnered nominations and seven of the nine nominated Best Pictures had a straight white male protagonist. In a year full of diverse filmmaking, the awards circuit continued to recognize the same perspective. 

In 2015, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was born to encourage the Academy to diversify its voting body, which at the time consisted of 25% women and 8% people of color. This movement gained momentum again this year for the 2020 Oscars where the nominees failed to represent the wide scope of stories told through film during the year.

In the acting categories, Cynthia Erivo, nominated for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman in “Harriet”, was the only person of color artist to receive a nomination. Actors who were in talks of receiving a nomination were Jennifer Lopez for “Hustlers”, Lupita Nyong’o for “Us”, Eddie Murphy for “Dolemite is My Name” and Awkwafina for “The Farewell”. Lopez was nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actress and Awkwafina won the Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy; the Globes usually can act as a precursor to nominees at the Academy awards, but both actresses did not pick up Academy nominations. 

The only precursor award Erivo did not pick up a nomination for was the British Academy of Film and Television Arts [BAFTAs]. The BAFTAs did, however, invite Erivo to perform her original song from “Harriet”. Erivo declined the offer to perform because the acting nominations at the BAFTAs was an all-white lineup.

“I felt like it didn’t represent people of color in the right light,” Erivo said in an interview with “Extra”. “It felt like it was calling on me as an entertainer as opposed to a person who was a part of the world of film, and I think that it’s important to make it known that it’s not something that you throw in as a party trick, you know?”

The Academy Awards this year did break one exciting record. “Parasite” became the first foreign film to win Best Picture. Bong Joon-Ho’s South Korean film about the dangers of capitalism and class relations was the highest-rated film on IMBD last year. This groundbreaking win, along with Barry Jenkin Reid’s “Moonlight” win in 2017, proved the Oscars could unexpectedly award low budget arthouse films to foreign films.

The 2020 Academy awards featured another gap: there were no female filmmakers nominations in the Best Direction category. After presenting the nominees, actress Issa Rae commented “congratulations to those men”- a frustrated response to how many were feeling.

“Little Women” director Greta Gerwig was the only woman in talks for a Best Direction nomination, but the open predictions slot ultimately went to Todd Phillips. Gerwig was nominated for a directing Oscar in 2018 for “Lady Bird”,the only directing nomination to go to a woman in the decade. The Globes failed to nominate Gerwig for both films.

Though the Best Direction category lacked any women, many films were released in 2019 by female directors.

“It is sad, but the very fact that last year we had more female writers and directors than ever and we’re still coming up against it is quite an obvious problem,” “Little Women” nominated actress Florence Pugh said in an interview with BBC News. “But we’re talking about it, and hopefully it’s changing.”

Ultimately, the Oscars may seem irrelevant. However, they remain a major component in box office numbers and, eventually, what new movies are funded. If films made by and about the straight white male continue to be awarded, those are the films that will continue to be made.

“I definitely think the lack of female representation in directing and screenwriting is something that needs to change especially as awards show progress,”  junior Brigid O’Brien said. “The ‘female gaze’ is important and something we need more representation for because historically, and even currently, Hollywood is a male-dominated field where countless records of issues, even looking at things such as the #MeToo Movement has been brought up where women working in film have had their voices and perspectives silenced. Valuing the ‘female gaze’ and making a point to celebrate women in film allows women to step forward in a field with  a historical reputation of devaluing women.”

Countless groundbreaking and exciting movies were released in 2019 that received little to no recognition from the awards circuit. People can riot on the internet about it, but the voting body may continue to be made up of more white men. Therefore, as a movie consumer, it is important to seek out diverse films, so we can continue to see and experience new perspectives through the big screen. They can also reflect and relate to viewers. In this shelter-in-place order, you may have the time to look for new movies made about different walks of life than you typically see from Hollywood. 

“I definitely think the Oscars have lacked diversity throughout history, and that hinders the growth of smaller directors, actors and producers who haven’t had the chance to make themselves well-known in the film industry yet,” O’Brien said. “Films such as ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Parasite’ were great examples of how diverse the film industry truly is, but the backlash both films received due to their wins is definitely evident of how Hollywood continues to remain in their old ways. Representation in film and media impacts generations growing up, constantly consuming media through TV & movies, so the impact of not seeing people like yourself on the screen as a kid can be kinda harmful in some ways.”

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