Each Friday through the week of the 2017 Academy Award nominations in January, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.
Two years ago, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started popping up on Twitter moments after the Oscar nominations were revealed. It was in response to the lack of people of color among those chosen in the acting categories. It was a year in which many expected for David Oyelowo would receive a nod for best actor and Ava DuVernay for best director for “Selma,” but it only earned two nominations, best picture and best original song, which it won.
April Reign, managing editor of the website Broadway Black, coined the hashtag that went viral and led to a form of social activism. The next year, the odds looked better for a more diverse field of actors and subjects, with films like “Tangerine,” “Creed,” “Sicario” and “Straight Out of Compton” garnering Oscar buzz. Unfortunately, Hollywood seems to love sequels and #OscarsSoWhite happened again. Celebrities like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and others boycotted the event in response to results, and it prompted Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to express how “heartbroken” she was about the results.
“I am excited about the ripple effect the hashtag appears to be having, not just with the respect to the Academy, obviously,” Reign said in an interview with Take 2.
Changes were implemented to include more voices in the Academy, with a record 683 new members welcomed into the fold. Membership rules to keep artists active and fresh were approved as the Academy wants to improve its diversity numbers by 2020. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts recently changed its requirements for consideration of a best British film nomination to include women and minorities in dominant roles in the film in front of and behind the camera.
“It is important to know that the Academy is still predominately older white male,” Reign said.
Fast forward to last fall, when film pundit Anne Thompson declared that the hashtag is dead, citing a numbers films that may yield Oscar nominations for minorities in nearly every category, including “Moonlight,” “The Birth of a Nation” and “Arrival.” Some entertainment sites published similar posts, including a controversial Mashable article that was trolled on Twitter and later re-edited to reflect a change of thought. More awards pundits are pitting “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins and “Fences” helmer Denzel Washington against each other, despite Jenkins’ biggest competitor being Damien Chazelle for “La La Land.”
But hardly any of these articles have included feedback from Reign, the hashtag’s creator. Reign pointed out that these buzz-worthy films were in production before the hashtag was born.
“They were obviously previously greenlit and in some cases in production in January of 2015,” she said. “So, while the hashtag may have spurred conversations and given these films more of a look than they may had otherwise, it’s important to me that we don’t take away from the fact that these were very good quality works of art, that they stand on their own.”
In a statement in late November ahead of their awards distribution, the African American Film Critics Association called 2016 the best year for blacks in the industry.
“By any measurement, it’s been an exceptional year for Blacks in film. From comedies to high-quality dramas and documentaries, 2016 will forever represent a bonanza year for Black cinema and all cinema really,” AAFCA co-founder and president Gil Robertson said in the statement. The organization praised the quality of films rallying different aspects of the African-American experience – one that has often been limited to the slave narrative, the biopic or the villain. Robertson also goes as far as to declare that #OscarsSoWhite will be on pause around Oscar time.
“But what we wonder is for how long?” Robertson asked.
Reign pointed out that these films are being told by minorities, making their voices heard through their art.
“That’s why we see the support for these particular films because they speak to the nuance and the complexity of black people in these instances without there being a white savior counterpart,” she said.
The one thing that several pundits ignore about the hashtag is that it is not limited to one particular group – it’s inclusive of all populations that have been marginalized by Hollywood. Reign brought up recent cases of “whitewashing” of roles that were traditionally set for Asian actors and how the Asian American acting community has spoke out against the practice and how straight actors are praised for playing homosexual or transgender roles.
“That is what #OscarSoWhite is about: make sure that everyone, especially those from marginalized communities, have an equal opportunity to shine and then take the best person for the role, the best person for the role behind the cinema – the producer, the director, the screenwriter, the cinematographer – and then the best person for the awards category,” she said.
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