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Friday, April 12, 2024

Oscars ‘shift to diversity’ not enough


Future award shows should uplift marginalized communities

Sunday night, as I feverishly searched for the livestream of the 89th Academy Awards, I could only think one thing: please don’t mess things up again. Like most people, #OscarsSoWhite was burned into the back of my brain, the start of a very disappointing 2016.

When Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor and Viola Davis won best supporting actress, I felt hopeful that the new Academy presidency of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy’s first Black president, had ushered in a real shift.

But despite it being the first year in Oscars history with more than three Balck winners (seriously, it’s 2017), I couldn’t help but feel like this wasn’t enough.

To start things off, Casey Affleck won best actor despite sexual assault allegations, proving that no matter how terrible you might be in real life, it’s okay if you’re a famous actor.

But probably the cringiest moment of the night was when La La Land was incorrectly announced as best picture winner instead of Moonlight. Finally, Steve Harvey can sleep at night. This moment was equally relieving and frustrating as the Moonlight cast members and crew climbed to the stage only to give the shortest speech of their lives as most of their time had been taken up by La La Land.

It was a strangely beautiful metaphor for the night, signifying that although the Oscars have attempted to solve the recurring problem of the last two years (and many prior) of not awarding diverse and deserving talent, it still struggles to truly move away from old patterns.

Many seemed satisfied with the fact that the Academy nominated six Black actors this year, seeing it as a sign that they were leaving behind the #OscarsSoWhite of the past couple years. Not only is this not enough, it is simply wrong to call this diverse as only one other performer in a minority population, Dev Patel, was nominated for best actor.

The Academy must do better — and not just when humiliated and pressured by the public eye. I can only hope they progress faster than their current glacial pace in recognizing artists of color.

I hope that in years to come, the Oscars can use this year’s awards as a stepping stone. Maybe next year we’ll see best actor and actress who are both Black. Maybe Hollywood will start casting even more people of color and tell more stories of intersectional identities now they see that these narratives can win.

As someone who is both a person of color and queer, seeing Moonlight win multiple awards honestly made me a little teary-eyed. To see a narrative like this turn out to be so successful and speak to so many made me feel supported, affirmed and very emotional.

And isn’t that the point? Because as Viola Davis said in her epic acceptance speech, she wants to tell “the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.” That is ultimately who the Oscars should celebrate: the stories of the marginalized, those who have gotten ignored and have been historically silenced.

The Oscars can mean so much more than just entertainment. They are a platform through which we can have honest conversations about politics and challenge ideas, like many winners from Sunday night used their award to do. This included Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who won best foreign film and who decided not to attend the ceremony in solidarity against the travel ban imposed by President Trump.

Through the Oscars and the filmmaking industry in general, there is a great potential to uplift communities such as the Muslim community and the Black queer community, and to tell them they are not alone and that their stories matter.

It’s time we make the Oscars more than fluff, and to utilize them as a tool and as a reflection of society in the direction of acceptance.
Written by: Abigail Wang — arts@theaggie.org


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