The Academy Awards’ history of overlooking diverse representation is on a slow path to change.
The 2022 awards season left fans pleasantly surprised by the increased recognition across all awards. Winners like Ariana DeBose, an openly queer woman of color, and “CODA,” a movie about members of the Deaf community, offered hope to marginalized communities.
Unfortunately, this year’s historic winners were overshadowed by the coverage of Will Smith’s slap — an actor who has previously refused to attend the Oscars in 2016 because of the lack of diversity in the list of nominees. His acceptance of the best actor award for his role in the film “King Richard,” in which he depicted the father of Black tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, could have shined a light on the changes the academy is working toward if not for this.
Despite awards season drama, the 2022 awards season should only be the start of more representation among winners and nominees in order to deconstruct the long history of exclusivity in Hollywood.
Academy Award snubs sometimes cause more buzz than the actual winners. Many Black creatives have protested award shows by declining offers to attend, host or present at these shows — one of the first being Eddie Murphy. In 1988, Murphy did attend the Oscars, but not without commenting on the evident lack of diversity, saying, “Black people will not ride the caboose of society, and we will not bring up the rear anymore. I want you to recognize us.” His thoughts from 1988 are still prominent in 2022. The battle for inclusivity has since continued, and moments like Murphy’s were proven not to be enough, even if it felt like it at the time. In 2002, Halle Berry was the first Black woman to win best actress for her role in “Monster’s Ball,” where she played a struggling mother. Berry, who still remains the only Black woman to win best actress 20 years later, noted later on that the moment “meant nothing” in the grand scheme of things. Additionally, awards presented to Black actors are often for their roles as enslaved people, domestic help, single parents or drug addicts. In Hollywood, not only do Black actors and actresses have to fight for recognition, but when they do get recognized, it’s frequently for their trauma in feel-good, white-savior movies that only serve to make white people feel good.
In years to follow, more Black creatives joined the movement. In 2016, the #OscarsSoWhite movement grew in response to all 20 of the leading actors and actress nominees being white for two years in a row. Also, in 2020, all of the best picture nominees but one, “Parasite,” were movies with predominantly white casts. Despite a minimal effort to increase nonwhite nominees, winners are still predominantly white. We are still a long way from real change taking place.
Marginalized groups cannot continue to be snubbed at awards ceremonies. It feels like the academy thinks they’re doing enough to diversify, but category nominees are still homogeneous, and still overwhelmingly made up of white males. This could be because the Oscars’ 9,000-member voting pool, which decides the final list of nominees, is mostly white and male. In 2020, there were new Oscar diversity initiatives implemented mandating that, to be considered for best picture, a film must meet at least two of four new diversity stipulations. However, many of these stipulations were exceedingly easy to obtain without actually diversifying film content or production. When the 2020 Oscar nominee list came out, people were stunned at the list of all-male nominees for best director, with an article from The New York Times noting snubs for “names who had created major box office hits, such as Greta Gerwig (‘Little Women’), Lulu Wang (‘The Farewell’) and Lorene Scafaria (‘Hustlers’).” At what point will women receive the same accolades as men?
This awards season, DeBose won the best supporting actress award for her portrayal of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s adaption of the musical “West Side Story.” This is the same role that previously won Rita Moreno a best supporting actress award as well. These two are the only Latina women to ever receive an Oscar, and also the only two nonwhite actors to win an award for the same role. DeBose had big shoes to fill for women, the LGBTQ+ community and nonwhite people. DeBose earned a lot of Oscar buzz, hopefully showing that people in her communities deserve recognition and nominations just as anyone else would.
People with disabilities are another group that the academy habitually ignores, even though “one in five adults in the United States have some type of disability,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Actors without disabilities are also frequently cast to play disabled characters. The academy has only granted a handful of awards to honorees struggling with a disability in their own lives. It’s difficult to understand why disabled individuals are often marginalized by art institutions. There’s a huge difference between portraying a person with disability on screen and actually having one. However, this year, “CODA,” which stands for “child of Deaf adults,” won best picture at the Oscars. All three leading Deaf characters in the film were played by Deaf actors. Troy Kotsur, who won best supporting actor for his role in “CODA,” was the second Deaf person to ever get an Oscar, with the first being his co-star in the film, Marlee Matlin. Despite critics, there was a lot of praise for the movie, as people enjoyed the characters’ relatability. This was a step in the right direction by the academy — nominating and awarding “CODA” with best picture was a monumental moment for the Deaf community.
The academy has a long history to unravel, but this year’s awards season leads myself and others to believe there’s hope for moving in the right direction. DeBose and Kotsur winning awards signifies a big step in diversifying nominees and winners, but are still only small wins in Academy Awards history. There needs to be more changes like this if there’s ever going to be major progress in artistic representation and acceptance. The 2022 winners only brought up the start of what should be prolonged conversations on diversity that will ultimately allow these groups to feel seen and heard.
Madison Stolarski is a junior majoring in English.