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Why this year’s Oscars could be a gamechanger

A black superhero movie, a film about a maid in Mexico, Spike Lee’s first Oscar and a portrayal of a gay, immigrant rock star: this year’s Oscars could be a huge game changer for the movie industry. Four years ago, activist April Reign started the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to bring attention to the lack of diversity and representation of people of colour in the Oscar nominations. In 2017, the Academy invited almost 800 new members: 39 percent female, 30 percent people of colour. This year was a win for diversity at large, putting films from a range of racial and cultural perspectives into the spotlights.

Article by Jeroen Poelmans, photos by Jordan Strauss & Kevin Winter

Photo by Jordan Strauss

In fact, you could say history was made last night. ‘Green Book’, a film about racial injustice in Southern USA, took home three awards, as did Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ (with an almost entirely black cast) and ‘Roma’, a Spanish-spoken story about a housemaid in Mexico. Spike Lee’s 'BlacKkKlansman', a film about a black police officer going undercover with the Ku Klux Klan, won the best adapted screenplay prize. The fact that those movies about crucial topics are made, is cause for celebration (although some people think Green Book still is problematic, since it's telling the story of a black man from a white perspective).

Even better is the amount of people of colour who won an Oscar. African-American director Spike Lee took home his first Oscar yesterday (for ‘BlacKkKlansman’), as did Black Panther’s costume designer Ruth Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler. Rami Malek, who has Egyptian roots, won the best actor prize for his role as Freddie Mercury in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and Regina King took away the prize for Best Supporting Actress.

ABC, YouTube

The Oscars are clearly making a major shift, especially considering the (really) white history of the show. Take a look at the numbers: between 2006 and 2015, 173 nominees (in the major actor categories) were white, 8 were Hispanic, 18 were black and only one was Asian. This year, there were 15 black nominees, which is the second most in history. With six wins in total, it was a historical edition for all the black talent.

So the Oscars have a really white history. Does that mean that the Academy members are racist? That would be a bit simplistic. There are different reasons why people of colour are “behind” in the film industry. Screenwriters may, for example, pick white actors because they’re white themselves and thus writing what they know. Or studios may prefer the established white roles because they don’t want to take any financial risks.

The main problem, in fact, lies within our society. White people have always had a head start. Sons and daughters (or family in general) are using the success and connections of their parents, who are white and established in the industry for years, to get themselves into the movie world. Having predominantly white nominees is just part of the world’s history with racism, rather than the result of racist Academy members.

ABC, YouTube

It seems that #OscarsAllWhite is now slowly starting to open up, and making the Academy look more like America. The wins of black women like Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler definitely are a game changer. Yet, we also mustn’t forget the other underrepresented groups, like the Hispanics or the Asians. There’s still a lot of work, #OscarsAllWhite still remains relevant.

But then again, let’s keep in mind this #OscarsAllWhite is just fighting symptoms rather than the underlying cause. As long as we don’t take care of the inequality in general (income, education), racial disparities that exist on every level of profession will remain. But, well, acknowledgement of the problem is the first step towards its solution, right? Onward!

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