The Oscars still lack representation of marginalized communities

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On March 27, the film industry’s biggest names will gather at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood and pray that their names will be encased in an iconic gold envelope and the 13.5-inch, 8.5-pound gold statue: an Oscar .

Long thought crown jewel of awards season, the Oscars have maintained a prestigious reputation for recognizing cinematic brilliance. Despite this, marginalized communities have consistently been excluded from the Oscars.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has tried to address this lack of representation in recent years, especially in 2016 after the social media campaign #OscarSoWhiteresulting in aggressive diversification efforts by the Academy.

The biggest of those efforts was her inclusion goal: to double the number of women and voters of color by 2020. The Academy has achieved this goal by doubling the number of female members from 1,446 in 2016 to 3,179 in 2020 and tripling the number of black members from 554 to 1,787. 2021 saw a record-breaking number of black nominees and winners selected. However, it is important to note that this is also the case with the admission of these new members only 19% of the voting body are black and only 33% of Oscar voters are women.

Rarely does the conversation about representation extend to the behind-the-scenes technical categories. Because of this, the same diversification progress that appears to have been made in popular categories such as Best Picture and Best Actor/Actress has not been evenly distributed across all creative aspects of the film industry.

Take this year’s nominations, for example — just two years after the Academy unveiled its diversity and inclusion initiatives, all of the 2022 Best Camera nominees are white, and only one of them is Female. Another technical category, Best Visual Effects, is dominated by white males nominees.

Also in the on-screen categories there are only four People of Color have been nominated for acting awards, unlike last year’s nine, and none of these women are nominated in the Best Actress category category. In fact, for Monster’s Ball in 2002, Halle Berry, aged 20, was the only woman of color to take home the Best Actress award in front.

Charisse L’Pree, associate professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, said of black representation at the Academy Awards that there is an urgent need for voices from marginalized communities in all facets of the film’s creative process, not just that what we see on the screen.

“I understand that the screen triggers the conversation. … I’d really like to go deeper, but it never does,” L’Pree said. “Because that’s never the case, we drift into this wave of, ‘Oh, we need a whole bunch of black representatives,’ but we’re not changing anything else in the institution.”

L’Pree has done extensive research on the relationship between media, representation and their impact on the human psyche. Their work has a particular focus on marginalized populations and sexualities, they said.

They said they believe that without systemic inclusion across all aspects of creative and production cinema, any positive change the industry seeks to implement will be fleeting. Hollywood will remain caught in an endless cycle of being called and then attempting sweeping changes, but since the changes are only superficial, institutions like the Academy will fall back on the same problems they were trying to solve until the cycle begins again .

The professor said that because of the deeply collaborative nature of filmmaking, such institutional changes would encourage better representation across the board and earn them accolades like an Oscar.

“If you don’t have someone who knows how to lighten dark skin, you won’t get the awards because the film itself won’t be as pretty to look at,” L’Pree said. “White people may not be aware of the unique responsibilities of lighting different skin tones. … So all of these things feed off each other, and unless you make changes everywhere, the current change that you make won’t last.”

L’Pree said films should be “for the people, by the people” and therefore they have a duty and responsibility to represent all people, even the marginalized.

Raising awareness of these issues is the first step toward inclusion, L’Pree said. Continued, tireless striving is required if we are ever to hope for real, lasting change.

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