Let’s start with a harrowing statistic. The first Academy Awards were hosted back in 1929, and since then over 3,000 awards have been handed out. Only 43 recipients were Black.
There is no denying there is a huge disparity in the number of BIPOC creatives being nominated for the Academy Awards, with the peak of the discussion taking place in 2015 with the campaign #OscarsSoWhite. Even in the most recent 2020 awards, only one performer of colour received an acting nomination, Cynthia Erivo for “Harriet”. I have encountered far too many people who believe the problem to be solved with the success of Parasite this year, a Korean film, but the success of one film and director is hardly reminiscent of the fixing of a recurring issue, in the same way the issue itself is not the problem of one person. Extensive criticism has been aimed at the film industry for the lack of diversity in the more elite forms, with blatant under-representation of minorities in the Academy, as well as the fact there is a lack of women at the top. Only one in five of the major film studios is run by a woman, the rest being headed by older white men.
There is also a recurring trend of Black actors receiving recognition from the Academy purely for work that reinforces Black stereotypes and conforms to historical contexts which have Black populations at the core, rather than a story with a Black person at the forefront purely for casting choice. All of these performances focus on contexts within which racism and prejudice is notably prevalent, so this regularity cannot be ignored. There are therefore, especially in recent years, very strong years for diversity in comparison to others. 2019 and 2020 really shine a light on BIPOC creators, but unfortunately this light, to continue with this analogy, is not great quality and often plunges the room into darkness. Like the light, diversity in Hollywood comes and goes, but regularly lingers in a very minimal and barely functioning state.
Ahead of the 2021 Awards, a number of changes have been implemented in order to hopefully increase the range of voices and films being represented by the nominations. The first of these is the fact there will now be ten “Best Picture” nominations rather than the usual five. The idea of this is to diversify the selections, preventing the prioritisation of certain voices as well as deconstructing the general selectiveness that is required with such few places in the nominations. Another change is the introduction of quarterly viewings for prospective films. The intention of this is to deter producers from conforming to the “Oscars season” convention where film releases are scheduled for optimal chances of an Oscars success story. Instead, films released across the whole year will be more evenly considered, opening up the playing field to more films and producers. I only hope these changes and tactics will be evident when the awards nominations are announced, but only time will tell.