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The Oscars are still so white

By Juie Chowdhury

Has the Academy changed; will it ever?

The 92nd annual Academy Awards will happen on February 9 2020 in the United States and it will be honouring all the best films shown in 2019. The nominees for each of the categories were announced last month in January and have been criticised for the lack of diversity having nominated mostly white actors.

There were many performances from actors of colour who deserved to be nominated. Most notably, Awkwafina for her performance in The Farewell.

This year’s nominations includes only one non-white actress, Cynthia Erivo, for Best Actress for her role as Harriet Tubman in Harriet. Howver, this isn’t the first time the Oscars has been called out for lacking diversity in their nominations; the first time it happened was back in January 2015, when there was not a single nomination for a non-white actor. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, coined by a writer and former lawyer April Reign, mocked the lack of diversity of the award show. Since then, the phrase has been used every year questioning if the academy has changed.

However, with the success of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite garnering a worldwide critical acclaim, it has become the first South Korean film being nominated for ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Original Screenplay’ and ‘Best Director’. The Academy has given out nominations and awards to actors of colour and films that focus around a person of colour in the past. In 2009, Slumdog Millionaire won most of the categories of the night including ‘Best Picture’ and was the most nominated film of that year. In 2017, Moonlight won ‘Best Picture’ and films that focused around a person of colour were nominated for Best Picture such as Lion, Hidden Figures and Fences.

So, if they have shown they can diversify their award show, why do they keep on falling back? Kyle Bucannan, a New York Times culture reporter and awards season columnist, tried to explain why there is a lack diversity. He said: “The academy is becoming more diverse. It is taking great pains to admit a lot more women and people of colour. But at the same time, the tricky thing is that generations before us have canonized certain types of stories, and they are almost always male-led and almost always have to do with extremely weighty matters, like murder or violence, often against women, or war. 1917, for example, is nominated and there’s only one role for a woman in it, and one scene.” 

Boon Joon-ho’s Parasite is the first South Korean film that has been nominated for Best Picture Photo: AFP

During actor Joaquin Pheonix’s acceptance speech the 2020 BAFTA awards, for which he won ‘Best Actor’ award, he spoke out against the systematic racism in the film industry. Highlighting the lack of people of colour being nominated in award shows, he said: “We send a very clear message to people of colour that “you’re not welcome here”. I’m ashamed to say that I’m part of the problem, because I’ve not ensured that the sets I’ve worked on are inclusive.”

The Academy awards are known as the most prestigious in Hollywood. However, the fact that their nominees are predominantly white doesn’t bode well for the future. If organisations don’t celebrate or represent diversity in its nominations, will audiences care about what they have to say? Or will viewers just tired of the same old yearly routine?

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