The End of #OscarsSoWhite...?

February 26, 2017
The End of #OscarsSoWhite...?

The long-awaited weekend has finally arrived. This Sunday, at 8:30 EST, is the 89th Annual Academy Awards, more commonly known as the Oscars. This is the oh-so-exciting time when actors, directors, screenwriters, and basically everyone in the movie business get recognized (or snubbed) for their hard work. I am one of the hopeful few who aspires to work in the entertainment industry someday, so the Oscars is something that I always look forward to. However, this year even more so, because in the Best Picture category (among others), there are not one, not two, but THREE black movies nominated! And that, my friends, is no small feat. 

If you were on social media at all around Oscar Nominations the past two years, then you should have heard about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. #OscarsSoWhite was a hashtag, started by writer April Reign, to highlight the lack of diversity in the nominees for the Oscars. She started it in 2015 when all 20 actors nominated for the lead and supporting actors category were white. In our so-called “Diverse” America, and the so-called “progressive” Entertainment industry, this is something that should never happen. And then, in 2016, it happened again. Not only did people fight back by lambasting the Oscars on social media, but celebrities actually chose to boycott the Oscars due to this grievance. The Academy reacted accordingly and there were letters written and changes made in response. Did it actually lead to change? Well, that’s up to interpretation but having three movies that not only feature black people in starring roles but also discuss black issues, nominated in major categories is definitely something to celebrate. Let’s get into those. 

Moonlight

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 11.10.38 AMNominations:

 

  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) 
  • Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris)
  • Best Director (Barry Jenkins)
  • Best Original Music Score (Nicholas Britell)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay 
  • Best Cinematography 
  • Best Film Editing

 

Iris has already published a piece about Moonlight, so I won’t delve into this so other than to say that I agree with Maddie’s observations wholeheartedly. Moonlight is stunning. It’s thought-provoking. It’s a tear-jerker (I literally cried at least 4 times). And it is so freaking important. I would say that about most films that touch on blackness, but this is a representation of a black gay man, and that is not something to be taken lightly. So frequently, “black” and “gay” are treated as mutually exclusive burdens that one bears, and LGBT black people are ignored. The fact that a movie about these intersections has gotten all the acclaim it has (despite the fact that I had to drive 40 minutes to see it– it wasn’t even playing at Stonefield, which says a lot right there!) is so exciting. It has already received so many awards this season from other shows, and the Oscars better not be any different. 

Fences

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 11.10.59 AMNominations:

 

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor (Denzel Washington) 
  • Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay

Now this is probably my favorite of the three movies I’m highlighting here, and it’s not only because I managed to scam my way onto a conference call where the producer, director, and main character, Denzel Washington spoke over winter break. (Yes, you read that right). Fences is the story of Troy Maxim and his working-class family in the 50’s. It is an adaptation of a play of the same name by August Wilson, one of the ten of his Pittsburgh Cycle. Y’all… this film is everything. They truly did that. I saw it twice. I saw it alone! My first time seeing a movie alone! And it was absolutely worth it. I won’t spoil it too much, but this movie touches on black fatherhood/masculinity, passing on trauma down to your children, love and relationships and taking people for granted… It’s just everything, you guys. I haven’t seen all the movies for Best Picture, but I have seen these three and this one is the one for me, (although I’d be happy with the other two as well). Best believe, if this movie doesn’t win any Oscars? The Academy and I are going to have problems. 

“Viola Davis is going to win that Academy Award, I can promise you that.”-Denzel Washington when we were on the phone. (Yes, you read that right). 

Hidden Figures

Screen Shot 2017-02-26 at 11.11.27 AMNominations:

 

  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay

Last but certainly not least, Hidden Figures. This movie tells the story of the black women who were integral to helping the U.S. go to space. It is based on the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly (a UVA alum!) and it is a true story. This film is so important on so many levels. Like, talk about intersectionality. Black women rarely get to play characters that aren’t some type of ugly stereotype. All women still don’t get proper recognition in STEM fields. And now a film about three black women who were necessary to getting our country into space? That is going to mean so much to so many young women in general, but especially young black girls. Surely it already has, considering it beat La La Land (which has a record of 14 Oscar nominations this year) for highest-grossing Best Picture contender. I couldn’t be farther from ever being in a position that would have me at NASA, but I still saw myself in the women on screen, and I still felt empowered. This movie truly left its mark. 

As you’ll notice, not only are these all Oscar-nominated, but they even share the same categories. This shows that the Academy did not just throw a token black film in to get people off their back. That is something to be celebrated. However, that doesn’t mean we can just pretend everything’s okay. The Oscars still have problems. Yes, #OscarsSoWhite was created by a black woman, and it was mostly black people leading the charge in commenting on their race issue last year (which is okay because hypervisibility =/= privilege, and there is nothing wrong with black people advocating for themselves, #NotYourMule). However, black people are hardly the only group of people to be left out of nominations. The Academy still has race problems on all fronts, and you can see that reflected in the list of nominees this year as well. And race isn’t their only issue. Considering they will give awards to sexual abusers, they clearly have a lot of problems that need to be addressed. 

But, despite how overused the phrase is nowadays, representation matters. The fact that these films were nominated for multiple Oscars matters. I am allowed to celebrate this, even if it’s not enough. Even if we have so far to go. 

I will be watching the Oscars. And as someone who has seen all these movies, and seen the way they’ve been racking up awards at all the other award shows this season, I will have something to say if they all walk away with nothing. And trust me, you’re gonna hear about it.

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