This year’s Oscars were dull. No surprises. Enough politics!
I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of that in the past two days. Needless to say, most of these comments seem to come from white males.
You didn’t hear any of those comments at my house on Sunday night. My husband Jimmy, a Navajo, was floored when Wes Studi, a citizen of the Cherokee nation, introduced a film montage thanking our soldiers and veterans. Before the montage, he spoke in Cherokee. My friend Yvonne, who is Mexican American, and I, were ecstatic when Disney/Pixar’s animated film Coco, a celebration of the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, took home two awards, one for Best Animated Feature and the other for Best Song. Indeed Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro was the evening’s big winner − The Shape of Water won awards for production design, score, best director and best picture.
And the list hardly stops there. Just three years after #OscarsSoWhite challenged the inclusiveness of the Academy's 7,200 members and their votes, this year's Oscars were, if anything, a festival celebrating diversity.
Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek presented a segment in celebration of the MeToo movement’s “trailblazers”. Upon winning the Oscar for Best Actress, Frances McDormand asked every female nominee in the room to stand up in solidarity, as viewers at home googled “inclusion rider.” A Fantastic Woman won for Best Foreign Film, and its Trans star, Daniela Vega, introduced Sufjan Stevens’ performance of “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name, an LGBTQ coming of age love story. A female producer, Darla Anderson, thanked her wife, and a male writer, Adrian Molina, thanked his husband, when they accepted the Best Animated Feature award for Coco. And Jordan Peele became the first African American to win the award for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out, also the first horror movie to get that prize.
Throughout the evening, there were few speeches which didn’t touch upon diversity. So much so that Maya Rudolph, in a hysterical sketch with Tiffany Haddish, “Oscars So Black,” announced, “We just wanted to say, don’t worry. There are so many more white people to come tonight.” Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani – American comedian, writer, and actor, who was the standout in a powerful montage about diversity said, “Now straight white dudes can watch movies about dudes like me, and you relate. It’s not that hard; I’ve done it all my life.”
Perhaps comedian and actress Sarah Silverman, who is, like me, a Jew from Manchester, New Hampshire, put it best: “There ain’t nothing to be scared of. It’s just equality.”
In promoting diversity, the Academy had a job to do, and in my opinion, they pulled it off with grace and power. But before we say “mission accomplished,” it’s so necessary to point out that Hollywood has a long way to go. According to nine years of data analyzed by USC’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, women and minorities continue to be underrepresented on the big screen. Of more than 39,500 speaking roles across 900 films studied, women made up just 30.5% of those roles. In the top 100 films of 2016, Latinos, who are approaching 20% of the U.S. population, were represented by just 3% of speaking parts.
This, despite that by significant margins, Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans represent a large, growing share of loyal film-goers. According to a report from the Motion Picture Association of America. Latinos accounted for nearly a quarter of frequent moviegoers, defined as those watching at least one film per month. In comparison, the share of frequent white film-goers has decreased dramatically, from 23.2 million in 2012 to 18.3 million in 2016. As #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign put it on CNN, “We have some record nominations this year for the black community, but the fact that we are still talking about firsts in 2018 means there’s a lot more that needs to be done in our community as well.”
Reign noted out that the black community’s recent Hollywood successes — Get Out, Black Panther, and A Wrinkle in Time — don’t mean that Hollywood is off the hook for representation when it comes to Asian American and Hispanic actors, directors, and writers. While Kumail Nanjiani was a presenter and Kazuhiro Tsuji won an Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling, Asian Americans were otherwise largely missing from the ceremony. Also, only six women took home Oscars this year, the lowest since 2012.
It might be a stretch for some folks in the majority to appreciate just how important diversity is to a growing number of Americans. According to the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA’s 2018 Hollywood Diversity report, multicultural audiences demonstrate a marked preference for diverse film and television content. Among its many findings, the report discovered that in 2015-16:
Films with casts that were between a quarter and a third minority had the highest global box office receipts and ROI, while films with the most racially and ethnically homogeneous casts were the poorest performers.
Minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for five of the top 10 films in 2016
Median ratings among 18-49 viewers, as well as among Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans peaked for broadcast shows featuring casts that were greater than 20% minority.
Social media engagement peaked for broadcast shows with casts that reflected the diversity of America.
Diversity matters, and finally, the Motion Picture Academy seems to be taking it seriously. Taking multicultural viewers – or consumers or patients – into consideration makes good business sense. And if our kids are going to grow up in a world where they see themselves on television and the big screen, it becomes vitally important. The United States is rapidly becoming a country where white folks represent not the majority, but another “ethnic” group. Hats off to the Oscars for getting it right.