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Culture > Entertainment

The Oscars Reach New Representational Heights — But Still Have A Long Way To Go

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

“I want to thank the Academy for not being mortally offended by the words ‘Women’ and ‘Talking’ put so close together like that. Cheers.”

When Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley accepted the award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 95th Academy Awards, she acknowledged how monumental it was for a film like Women Talking to be recognized. After all, the Oscars don’t have a great track record when it comes to recognizing women in film — let alone women of color and other marginalized groups. But the Academy’s recognition of Women Talking, a film about a group of women coming together to escape the oppressive men of their colony, is one of many marks of progress at this year’s Oscars.

Notably, 60-year-old Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh took home the Oscar for Best Lead Actress — making history as the first Asian person to do so. She is only the second woman of color to win this award in the Oscars’ 95 years, the first being Halle Berry, who presented Yeoh with the award. Yeoh is part of the majority-Asian ensemble cast of Everything Everywhere All At Once, which took home seven Oscars, including three of four acting awards and Best Picture.

“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibilities,” Yeoh said upon accepting her award. “This is proof that dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime. Never give up.”

While Everything Everywhere All At Once led the charge in the realm of representation, other films won history-making awards as well. The film RRR took home the award for Best Original Song, becoming the first Indian feature film to win an Oscar. Attendees and viewers of the show got to witness a live performance of the winning song, “Naatu Naatu.” In another win for India, The Elephant Whisperers was awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary Short.

In another history-making moment, costume designer Ruth E. Carter became the first Black woman to win multiple Oscars for her work in the Black Panther franchise. While these wins are being celebrated as movement toward a Hollywood that reflects the diversity of the world we live in, critics also note how much more institutions like the Academy Awards have to grow in terms of representation. For one, Ruth E. Carter is the only Black woman to win more than one award at the Oscars. Furthermore, many Black Panther fans felt that Angela Bassett was snubbed in the Best Supporting Actress category, just another time when a white woman was chosen over an equally (if not more) qualified Black woman.

Within the last 50 years, there have only been four Black men and one Black woman who have won in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories. The voting body for the Academy Awards is 80% white — which could certainly play into this bias. Furthermore, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reports that since 1929, of the 13,253 Academy Award nominees, only 17% were women — and less than 2% were women of color. For all the rhetoric of inclusion and progress in today’s film world, the decades of history of exclusion are baffling.

New York City-based theater student and filmmaker Amara McNeil was one of many industry workers who was disappointed once again by the Oscars. “Even when movies or the Oscars do reflect some sort of growth or change in terms of society, I think that that change is almost never revolutionary, it is usually incremental change,” McNeil told Her Campus UConn. McNeil was among many theatergoers who were shocked and disappointed at the lack of nominations for Till, the moving story of Mamie Till-Mobley’s pursuit of justice after her son Emmett Till’s brutal lynching.

“I expect nothing from institutions like the Oscars”

—Amara McNeil

“I think because of who I am, because I’m not just a woman but a woman of color, which puts me even lower down the line of respect and acknowledgment, I expect nothing from institutions like the Oscars,” McNeil said. “Because I’m a leftist, I actually don’t believe in looking toward those institutions to dictate our change.”

The 95th Academy Awards was a celebratory night for Asian representation and a step in the right direction in recognizing women and other marginalized groups in Hollywood. But the industry needs to recognize the growth that is needed in the realm of representation — and soon. What we see on the screen matters. As the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media’s motto goes, “if she can see it, she can be it.” Representation matters, and Hollywood has a responsibility to better reflect the diverse world we live in.

Molly was the 2022-2023 President and Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus UConn after serving as Treasurer, Vice President, and a Contributing Writer. She graduated in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with English and Political Science minors. You can find her at https://www.molly-mcguigan.com