Updated: Jun 20
In 2016 I wrote an article for the popular online publication, For Harriet, entitled #OscarsSoWhite, which also happened to be the trending hashtag at the time because the Oscars were…well, really “white”. I wrote the article as an actress of color and as a burgeoning blogger who had grown tired of the time-honored tradition of what I then called, “waiting for old white men to love us”.
Many things have changed since 2016 and many things have not. When the 2020 Oscar nominations were released for Achievement in Directing, the list was entirely male. It was entirely male in the face of critically acclaimed movies like Little Women, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and The Farewell. It was entirely male in the face of the clarion call for inclusivity for women and minorities. It was entirely male at the dawn of a fresh new decade, offering more platforms for women's voices than at any other time in the history of our nation. And it has been entirely male for 87 of the 92 years that the Academy Awards have existed. To this embarrassing, shameful phenomenon, I say, #TimesUp. Women are more than deserving of not only being included but of being considered. It’s high time women look at the Academy Award nomination list for Achievement in Directing and are able to say #MeToo.
So…four years later, I once again ask, how and why does this keep happening? To be honest, that was rhetorical, I actually kinda know. As an African American woman, I am pretty familiar with how wanton discrimination can live unchecked in American institutions. It’s actually an easy formula and it’s as comfortable as putting on your favorite pair of jeans. You simply, CHANGE NOTHING.
No radical change, equals no radical change.
But wait a minute! Hold your horses! There was a change. At least an earnest attempt for change by former Academy President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Along with being female, she is also African American. After the 2016 #OscarsSoWhite dust up, she instituted new rules in hopes of bringing in a more youthful and ethnically diverse Academy membership. And she succeeded! Since 2016 over two thousand new members were invited to join. Increasing female membership from 25% to 28% and increasing minority membership from 8% to 13%.
The Los Angeles Times did a breathtaking report illustrating the stagnate journey toward diversity for Academy membership.
In 2012 it reported that Oscar voters were 94% white and 77%, male.
In 2016 it reported that Oscar voters were 91% white and 76%, male.
And today, in 2020, according to a new Los Angeles Times study, Oscar voters are 87% white and 72%, male.
Ah…sweet sweet progress.
Hey! Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?
But when you look at those percentages is there any wonder why women and people of color are so often overlooked in major categories. In my 2016 #OscarsSoWhite blog I wrote the following regarding the majority white, majority male, majority age 50 and older Academy membership:
“If the Academy was 91% African-American and 77% of that group was African-American women, what kinds of movies do you think we would see nominated? What if the Academy was 94% Latino or Asian, and 86% of the voting body were under age forty? Who would be receiving the bulk of the awards?
In no way am I saying that it is acceptable that people of color are excluded from the process in such a shamefully disproportionate way. In fact, it is reprehensible. But when the governing body is only representative of one group of people, what do we expect? They are going to vote for the movies that appeal to them, based on their dispositions and personal life experiences, as would anyone in their position.”
While I still agree with that statement in part, it lacked the knowledge that I now have. The problem with The Academy Awards is far more insidious than my 2016 understanding. Cheryl Boone Isaacs put Academy membership on a good path in terms of slowly creating more gender and ethnic diversity in it’s membership.
But Cheryl’s remedy was far from a fix. It only addressed the icing, it never even came close to touching the cake. And the cake, is where the problem lies. You see, even if some Nazi-esque affirmative action plan was imposed on Academy membership. Forcing utter gender equity of voting members to 50% women and 50% men. And even if in those gender diverse groups, each group had to be equally ethnically diverse, you would STILL have an ethnically and gender diverse body of people voting on films sanctioned, produced, written, directed, created, crafted and performed by a white male majority.
So while Academy membership may be growing more diverse at a snails pace. It is the various branches that select the nominees that the rest of the members get to vote on. So if the Directors Guild is 98% white and male, guess who they’re going to nominate for the Academy membership to vote on? And if the Writers Guild is 96% white and male, who do you think their nominees will be? And wait, it gets better, it’s the studio executives who decide what films actually get made and have mainstream distribution to even be considered by the various branches. And I’ll give you one guess as to which demographic represents the majority of that group.
Can you say “Cluster Fuck” boy and girls?
During Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, James Carville coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Well in this case it’s, “Who green-lights the content, stupid”.
And let me answer that question for you:
EXECUTIVE BRANCH: 98% White.
The executive branch finances the movies and determines what films warrant an awards campaign.
PUBLIC RELATIONS: 95% White.
Strategizes Awards Campaigns.
*The other branches reflect the entrenched nature of certain hiring patterns in Hollywood:
VISUAL EFFECTS: 98% Male.
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: 95% Male.
DIRECTORS: 91% Male.
Knowing this, the fascination becomes not so much that things have been this way for so long, but how women and people of color have ever managed to make any winning films whatsoever. But we have, and damn good ones.
I want to be very clear. I love Hollywood. I am an actress, I am a writer and I am a producer. I love the power of film and television to entertain, to heal, to inspire and to teach. It is one of the greatest mediums on earth. And yes, I too held my hair brush up while looking in the mirror crafting my Oscar speech. But just as I love my country and challenge it to be better, in this moment I do the same for my industry.
If the film industry was comprised of 96% African American female writers and 91% African American female directors, while that would prove fun for a season, honestly, after a while, it would bore me. I would want to hear different stories from different perspectives and see different film styles and genres. And if I were competing, I would want to compete with talent from all walks of life. Truly, how much can you grow if everyone is another version of you?
In 2016 I ended my #OscarsSoWhite blog with this sentiment:
“It is a new day. Let us seize this moment by creating a program that honors the excellence and exceptional talents of every member in the entertainment industry, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or age. My dream is that one day, there will be a little brown girl looking in the mirror, holding her hairbrush and practicing her acceptance speech, knowing that she has just as likely a chance of winning as anybody else.”
Today I end it with this sentiment. It is NOT enough to create an awards show that honors and includes everyone. We must also create studio executives that are ethnically diverse as well as female to ensure that our stories are included in the process. To my own community, I say this. It is time for us to stop primarily esteeming performing arts talent and athletic ability. There is FAR more to the entertainment and athletic industries than who is in front of the camera or on the field. As Chris Rock said years ago, “Who makes more? Shaq or the person signing Shaq’s check? We need owners and decision makers. We need business men and women. We need foley artists, sound engineers, writers, and directors. We need venture capitalists, Wall Street traders, bank owners, and software creators. To be fully represented we can no longer picket, protest, and hashtag for an invitation to the party, we must be in a position to throw our own.