By Veronica Mackey
What a difference a year makes. In 2016, many African Americans boycotted the Oscars, citing a notable lack of nominations for people of color. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith led the charge by posting a video on social media which addressed the situation.
Spike Lee told Variety, “As I see it, the Academy Awards is not where the ‘real’ battle is. It’s in the executive office of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gate keepers decide what gets made and what gets jettisoned to “turnaround” or scrap heap. People, the truth is, we ain’t in those rooms and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly white.”
Rather than attend the Oscar ceremony, Lee said he would attend a Knicks game instead.
#OscarsSoWhite trended on social media, pointing out Oscar snubs for black actors Idris Elba (“Beast of No Nation”); Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”); and the cast of the NWA biopic "Straight Outta Compton.”
Following last year’s controversy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the African American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, stepped up efforts to increase diversity by more people of color. She was re-elected for her fourth term in August.
This year, a record number of 6 black actors were nominated: Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”), Viola Davis (“Fences”), Denzel Washington (“Fences”), Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”) and Ruth Negga (“Loving”) all snagged nominations. There were no non-white acting nominees in 2011, 2015 or 2016.
Last year 638 new members were added to the Academy, resulting in a more diverse block of voters in terms of ethnicity, gender and age. Gender diversity still lags behind in the best director category. Only four women have ever been nominated for best director. Kathryn Bigelow was the one and only woman to win, and that was 7 years ago.
Ava DuVernay has a chance to become the first black woman to win the best documentary award for her film, “The 13th.” Barry Jenkins could be the first black film maker to win for as Best Director for “Moonlight.”
There also needs to be more consideration of young, new talent. This year actress Meryl Streep is nominated again —her 20th. Some critics say she is overrated and the acting nomination should have gone to Amy Adams for “Arrival.”
It’s a decent start for Black Hollywood, but more progress needs to be made for women and for Latinos, Asians and other people of color. Representation needs to be broadened as well for everyone in the film industry who works behind the scenes.