Last year, we released an infographic and study on the diversity gap in the Academy Awards. The study looked at racial and gender diversity over 85 years of Oscars, through 2012. Here’s the updated study, which includes the 2013, 2014, and 2015 winners:
You may notice it looks…not very different from the old infographic. That’s because this year’s Oscars presented a whole lotta’ the status quo, with just a few bright moments thrown in. Here’s our recap:
The good: A few great speeches about social justice issues were a refreshing reminder that at its best, great filmmaking can move people to change. Graham Moore, screenwriter for The Imitation Game, used his acceptance speech to speak about how he grew up feeling different and attempted suicide at the age of 16. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”
Patricia Arquette, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a single mother in Boyhood, used her speech as a platform to speak about wage equality for women: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all,” she said.
And in what was perhaps the most progressive and moving speech of the night, rapper Common and musician John Legend accepted their Oscar for the song “Glory” by talking about the ongoing struggle for Civil Rights:
Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.
If you watch no other clips from last night’s ceremony, you should still watch their spectacular rendition of “Glory”:
The Oscar win for Big Hero 6 was also a win for diversity in what was overall one of the least diverse Oscars in years. The movie takes place in the future “San Fransokyo” and features a diverse cast of characters played by a diverse cast of actors.
Finally, director Alejandro González Iñárritu won the Best Director Oscar for Birdman, becoming the third person of color in as many years to win the category (after Alfonso Cuarón and Ang Lee). This is no small thing, though it still hurts to see Ava DuVernay left off the nominations here when only one woman has ever won an Academy Award for Best Director.
The Bad: Three big stats that were true in 2012 are still true, three years later:
- Only one woman of color (1%) has ever won the Academy Award for Best Actress
- Only seven men of color (8%) have ever won the Academy Award for Best Actor
- Only one woman (1%) has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director
2014 saw a step forward with three Oscar wins for Twelve Years a Slave, but just a year later all 20 acting nominations once again went to white actors. No women were nominated in the directing, writing, or cinematography categories in 2015 either. Given the lack of diversity in the nominations alone, there was little hope for diversity among last night’s winners.
Neil Patrick Harris, who hosted the Oscars, joked about this in his opening scene: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest – I mean brightest,” he said. The joke was at best a way to acknowledge the problem, at worst a way for the Academy to gloss over it without addressing it in any real or meaningful way.
It’s no surprise that there’s no change among the winners when there’s no change among the voters. According to a recent LA Times article, the racial makeup of the Academy has barely budged in the last few years, even with a commitment to diversify from the Academy’s first black woman president. Roxane Gay reminds us why the makeup of the voters affects what wins:
It is frustrating, particularly in looking at the Best Picture nominees, to see what kind of story is resonating with Academy voters. With the exception of Selma, these are movies about white men coming of age, coping with old age, coping with genius, coping with a strong mind but frail body, coping with the burdens of patriotism and duty, and on and on.
These stories deserve to be told but they are not the only stories that deserve to be told. This is what we continually lose sight of. And in Selma, which is an outstanding movie, we see, yet again, the kind of story Academy voters are comfortable with when it comes to people of color–always about the history, about the struggle. Where is the Birdman for an aging Asian actress? Where is Girlhood, ambitiously chronicled over a number of years? Where is the twee movie shot in highly saturated color about a woman working as a hotel concierge? These stories exist and if they don’t they have the potential to exist, if there were more opportunities available.
This echoes a comment from Gina Prince-Blythewood, writer/director of the 2014 film Beyond the Lights:
The numbers do not surprise me because very few Academy Award level films with non-white leads are being greenlit. Until this changes, the abysmal numbers will not change.
Academy Award nominee Viola Davis said the same thing on her way to the ceremony when asked about Hollywood’s diversity problem:
You have to greenlight more stories that include people of color. You can’t get nominated for anything you’re not in.
You can’t get nominated for anything you’re not in: that about sums it up (in the case of David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay, you sometimes can’t get nominated for anything you are in, either). The bottom line is that despite some progressive speeches and a few isolated wins, the Academy Awards – and Hollywood in general – are still not a very friendly place for people who aren’t white, or for women of any color who want to work behind the camera.
Luckily, each of us has a little bit of power in our pockets to affect the box office and support great diverse movies with our time, money, and word of mouth. Meanwhile, the status quo doesn’t seem to be working very well for Hollywood anymore. Given all that, let’s hope that the next time we update our infographic, we’ll have some better numbers to report.