To state the obvious, Hollywood has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years. 2017 brought the fall of Harvey Weinstein and the beginning of the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns, which challenged the status quo of the industry as a whole. But Hollywood hasn’t just been taken to task over its treatment and representation of women, in 2015 and 2016 the Academy in particular was called out for being overwhelmingly white.
The #OscarsSoWhite movement was started by writer and activist April Reign, after the 2015 Oscar nominations featured no people of color in the acting categories (and this was the year Selma came out). The next year, the same thing happened. Then as 2017 came, things finally began to change. Moonlight, a black and gay coming-of-age story, received eight nominations and famously won Best Picture, beating out La La Land, a film which incidentally featured no leading actors of color.
But Moonlight's success aside, the Oscar's don't just skew disproportionally white, the type of stories that the Academy tends to recognize often center a straight white male, with women and people of color acting as side characters. While to some, diversity in film could seem like a trivial matter, for the millions of people who don't see themselves reflected on the screen, it's anything but.
As The Huffington Post reports, it's been found that children of color who consume mainly white media report lower self-esteem than their white peers. As one researcher put it, "When you don’t see people like yourself, the message is: you’re invisible. The message is: you don’t count. And the message is: 'there’s something wrong with me.'" Media diversity also affects how different groups relate to each other. In a concept called the "TV view of the world," what we see in media actually impacts how we see the world—and each other—so if a certain minority group is constantly being presented in a negative or stereotypical light then that's a serious problem.
Now, 2018 has brought one of the most-diverse lists of Oscar-nominated films so far — both in subject matter and the creator's behind them. Get Out, a horror that satires white liberal racism picked up four nominations, while Call Me By Your Name, a romantic gay coming-of-age love story, is a front-runner in three categories. The nominations for Actress in a Leading Role and Actor in a Supporting Role all went to white stars, however black talent was recognized in other acting categories. For Netflix’s Mudbound, Mary J Blige was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, alongside securing a nomination for Best Original Song, while Octavia Spencer received her third Best Actress in a Supporting Role nomination in a row for The Shape of Water (she won her first nomination in 2012 for her role in The Help). In the male acting categories, Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya received a Best Actor nomination, alongside a surprise nod for Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.
This year's Directing nominations were the most diverse in history, a relief after Natalie Portman called out "the all-male nominees" at this month's Golden Globes. Greta Gerwig got a nod for Lady Bird making her the fifth woman ever to receive a nomination (only one woman has ever won, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2010), Guillermo del Toro, who is from Mexico, was nominated for The Shape of Water, while Get Out's creator Jordan Peele became the fifth black man to ever receive a nomination for Best Director. If he wins, he’ll become the first black winner (Peele also became the third person to earn nominations for directing, writing, and producing in a directorial debut — and also the first black person to be nominated for all three ever).
In other "firsts," Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever to receive a nomination in Cinematography for Mudbound, while the film’s cowriter-director became the first black woman nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. Yance Ford became the first trans director to ever be nominated for an Oscar, receiving a Best Documentary nomination for Strong Island.
2018's Oscar nominations also reflect the industry's current conversation surrounding sexual assault and harassment. After allegations of sexually exploitative behavior appeared on Twitter one day before Oscar voting closed, James Franco was snubbed of his expected Best Actor nomination, a move which will help the Academy avoid a controversy like last year's Casey Affleck’s win.
Two Best Picture nominees in particular are a response to our current social climate. Frances McDormand's rage in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been seen as a symbol of the injustice that caused #MeToo (though it must be said that the film has received a lot of criticism when it comes to depicting race), while Lady Bird, a teen coming of age story that focuses on the interior lives of women and the relationship between a mother and a daughter, is a refreshing antidote to the endless news cycle of rape accusations. Margot Robbie's nomination for Best Actresses in I, Tonya is also worth mentioning, as she depicts a survivor of domestic violence in a nuanced way that evades stereotypes of "the perfect victim."
While 2018's Oscar-nominated films are still not nearly representative of the demographics of those who go see them, it's clear that Hollywood is taking steps to correct its bias. This year's nominations could be attributed to the changing demographics of the Academy itself, which back in 2012 was reported by the LA Times as being 94% white and 77% male.
In June of last year, the Oscars committee led by its first black President Boone Isaacs announced it would be inviting new members. This "new class" of the academy, which included Riz Ahmed, Priyanka Chopra, Donald Glover, Naomie Harris and Ruth Negga, was 39 percent female and 30 percent were non-white. The change is part of the Oscars A2020 initiative, dedicated to improving diversity in the Academy by 2020.
While it remains to be seen whether the steps that the Academy has taken to increase diversity will continue once activists stop putting pressure on the Oscars, even if Hollywood uses this moment to overhaul itself and change its systematic racism and sexism, it has a lot of work to do. This is the 90th Oscars, and a few extra nominations won't undo years of exclusion of women and people of color, Hollywood as a whole has to actively work to give more opportunities to those previously ostracized and make sure a wider range of stories get told.
As The New York Times journalist Wesley Morris pointed out in a recent podcast, change is happening in Hollywood, “it's just happening in dog years."
Next up, read why TV shows about teenage depression and suicide are so relevant right now.