Why Are the #OscarsStillMostlyWhiteAndMale?

January 13, 2020, 7:48 PM UTC

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April Reign, founder of the hashtag campaign #OscarsSoWhite, knew by 8:35 a.m. Eastern time today that she was going to have a busy day.

Inclusion advocates worried that this year’s Academy Award precursors were grim omens for the big show. The Golden Globes ignored a slew of female directors to nominate only men; the BAFTA Film Awards nominated an all-white slate of actors.

The New York Times’s Carpetbagger column called out the tension early.

“And though the academy… has taken great pains to diversify itself since the years of #OscarsSoWhite, this past week suggests that other awards bodies still have a lot of soul-searching to do, and that this issue may require a total shift in what’s considered weighty and worthy.”

Turns out, that soul searching continues. The most inclusive part of the awards were the nomination announcers, Insecure star Issa Rae and Star Trek actor Jon Cho.

One lone actor of color—Harriet star Cynthia Erivo—was nominated for best actress. The Farewell‘s Awkwafina, Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers, and Just Mercy‘s Jamie Foxx, were among the expected nods which went un-nodded.

And female directors were snubbed by the Academy again this year. The five nominees are Bong Joon Ho (Parasite, the first Korean movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture), Sam Mendes (1917), Todd Phillips (Joker), Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood).

“Congratulations to those men,” Issa Rae joked.

But Reign was unmoved and unsurprised. “Hello! Busy day ahead & you want to discuss #OscarsSoWhite, now 5 yrs strong. Happy to help!” Reign tweeted, with a link for journalists on deadline.

While the erasure of talent of color was egregious, the director category was particularly disappointing, in part because 2019 had been such a breakthrough year.

The Los Angeles Times notes the Oscar-level films that could have been considered beside Greta Gerwig’s resplendent Little Women: Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, Kasi Lemmons’s Harriet, Mati Diop’s Atlantics, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency, Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy, Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, and Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale.

“Those 11 films netted a total of three nominations: Harriet for actress in a leading role, Cynthia Erivo, and original song, Stand Up; and Beautiful Day’s Tom Hanks for supporting actor.” (Little Women did get six total nominations, including one for Greta Gerwig for best adapted screenplay.)

Only five women in history have ever been nominated for Best Director—yet changing the ratio hasn’t seemed to help.

But a look behind the scenes suggests that perhaps it’s the Oscars who should be snubbed.

Twelve women directed some of the top-grossing films in 2019, representing 10.6% of all directors, up from 4.5% in 2018, according to a new study from USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative. You can thank Universal Pictures in large measure, which distributed five films helmed by women last year—including Melina Matsoukas’s Queen and Slim. Universal also became the first major studio in 2019 to support the “4% Challenge” and commit to work with at least one female director on a feature film over the next 18 months.

Well done, Universal.

I’ll give Reign the last word, since I’m pretty sure she had this statement ready to go.

“In the past, the pushback against #OscarsSoWhite was, ‘There just weren’t enough performances to nominate.’ Well, that’s not the case this year,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “There was a wealth of talent—and not just of black performers but of various marginalized communities—that was overlooked. And it’s really unfortunate. I’m interested in what Hollywood and the Academy are going to do to make the entertainment industry reflect those that support it.”

Ellen McGirt

On Point


Serena Williams celebrates with daughter Alexis Olympia after winning the final match of the ASB Classic.
Hannah Peters—Getty Images

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New York Times

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On Background

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Understanding Attica The African American Intellectual Society has put together an extensive online “roundtable” discussion on Heather Ann Thompson’s book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. They tapped an array of historians and other experts to put the material into a variety of contexts, from writing trauma in historical works to exploring how the uprising fits into the broader politics of today. It’s all fascinating material, and the roundtable itself is a model for showcasing expertise and history online.


“With my first film, there was a bidding war with people who hadn’t even read the script—studios—just because they heard I was the female Spike Lee. But they weren’t looking at the work. They didn’t believe that we had anything of merit for ourselves. It’s just that we were the flavor, that’s it. As an African-American woman who speaks up and fights against things that are racist or misogynistic, I felt a very big backlash. If I had a penny for every time I was blacklisted and somebody told me, ‘You will never work again,’ I’d be super, super wealthy.”

—Film director Darnell Martin, in an interview with the New York Times on being part of the first wave of promising Black filmmakers, in the 1990s.

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