Lack of Diversity in 2020 Oscars: Why It’s a Problem

Glittering gowns, flashing cameras, and cream-colored envelopes sealed with a secret.

Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosts the Academy Awards to honor the best of the best in the film productions of that year. Better known as the Oscars, the ceremony is among the most highly anticipated award ceremonies in the American film industry. Getting the coveted golden Oscar can launch careers in the film industry to the above and beyond, making the awards the dream nearly everyone in film wants to achieve.

But a major problem lies beneath the glitz and glamor of the greatly recognized awards show.

 

The nominations list for this year’s Oscars is nowhere near diverse. While the Academy did recognize films like the jaw-dropping Korean thriller Parasite and the well-received biopic Harriet, they still failed to recognize other films released this past year that centered around the stories of people of color. Awkwafina gave a powerful performance in The Farewell, which also featured amazing direction by Lulu Wang and gorgeous cinematography. Us sent chills down the spines of viewers with a well-crafted screenplay and Lupita Nyong’o blew minds away with her ability to deliver, twice. And how could the Academy have forgotten about Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers, who bursted with color and energy on screen?

The Academy is no stranger to criticism over diversity amongst their nominees. In 2015, the nominations list sparked public outrage and prompted the creation of the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite when not a single person of color was amongst the 20 acting nominees. It happened yet again the following year in 2016 when all 20 acting nominees were once again all white. In response to the backlash, the Academy has tried to solve issues of diversity by increasing its membership to include more people of color and women with the goal of having a voting body that reflects the racial makeup of the American population. But their efforts are clearly not enough as their members fail to make significant changes to the racial makeup of the nominees.

It’s not a matter of getting a certain quota of people of color in the nominations list. Throwing in an Asian American actor or an African American director just for the sake of their ethnicity is not going to make a difference. Instead, it’ll only make matters worse by creating a sense of otherness and a notion that films with people of color only get recognized to achieve a standard. While the American public is slowly warming up to the narratives told by films featuring people of color, such films are still approached with caution because of how different these narratives are from the traditional white narratives that are normally honored at the Academy Awards. To be fair, some of these films are best watched after understanding their context. The Farewell personally hit home for me because I understood the cultural context of the decisions that were made and could relate to the characters on a cultural level.

The Academy needs to change its selection process so that its voting body can be well acquainted with a wide range of films that includes films outside the structure of typical box office smashing hits. By honoring films featuring people of color for their artistic and cultural value, the Academy can help shatter the notion that such films are only limited to narratives of pure sorrow and suffering and expand the image of American films to include more colorful and powerful narratives.

While the 2020 Oscars are right around the corner, much can still be done to improve the world-renowned film awards to truly honor the best of the best in the film world.

 

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