2019 was a year that held immense breakthroughs in the film community. From Awkwafina’s heartfelt “The Farewell” and Greta Gerwig’s rendition of “Little Women,” to Eddie Murphy's masterful comeback in “Dolemite Is My Name,” women and people of color poured their hearts out into sharing their stories with us.
On Jan. 13, the Academy released its full selection of Oscar nominees;. It seemed that the list, curated by the infamous group of elite Hollywood voters, begged an uncomfortable question: where are all the women and people of color?
After the immensely successful year had by many minorities in Hollywood, only 30% of nominees were women, and a shamefully low 20% were people of color. After 91 years of the same, locally-based awards show, why are minorities still being snubbed? More importantly, why do we still allow the Oscars to have an esteemed accreditation?
Let’s take a step back and look at film awards in general. The months between November and March are categorized as “film awards season,” with the majority of those awards shows taking place in the United States — even though the awards season includes international shows like the British Academy Film and Television Awards. The U.S. are gatekeepers of film and media by hosting all the major awards shows in film awards season. People of color could never have a chance to be considered when white Americans keep an iron hold on film awards and only pay attention to other white Americans.
So, it seems that the trouble with the Oscars is deeply systemic. After 91 years of the show, there is no longer an excuse for blatantly snubbing women and people of color. Perhaps, we should look away from reforming the broken Academy, and instead look to creating a new one. Imagine that instead of Tom Holland, Adele and Lady Gaga voting for the best movies of the year, voters could include more people like Uzo Aduba from “Orange Is the New Black” or Zhao Shuzhen from “The Farewell.” The scope of films collectively viewed by the academy would dramatically widen. Thus, the films that reach mainstream media would also increase in diversity.
A new group of voters would also bring in a fresh set of eyes that might be more committed to giving all movies a fair chance. Year after year, Oscar voters openly admit that in the two film award categories that do not require every movie to be viewed — best picture and best-animated picture — they skip out on watching some.
According to a Cartoon Brew interview in 2019, “a male member of the Academy’s 519-person directors branch said that he’d seen four of the films, but not Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai, a film whose name he couldn’t even remember.”
Notice that the voter couldn’t even remember the name of Mamoru Hosoda’s “Mirai.” What sets “Mirai” apart from the other movies in that category? The film was not made by white men, and it was not in English. If one man so confidently exclaimed that he didn’twouldn’t watch the film, knowing it was nominated, imagine how few international movies — or even movies made by non-white Americans — caucasian Academy members actually see. Both filmmakers and viewers deserve better than this sketchy, racialized voting process. I can only hope that this decade brings a fresh new awards show that highlights the work of people of color, nota tedious 92nd Oscars.