Can Hashtags Wipe Away the Oscars’ Narrow Minded History?

Featured Image: Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman, photo courtesy of Focus Features

By Caitlyn Mason, staff writer for She Persists

In honor of Women’s History Month, TV Wasteland partnered with a staff writer (Caitlyn Mason) from She Persists, an organization dedicated to sharing the feminist perspective on various topics. Check out Mason’s op-ed below on her opinion on the Oscars’ lack of diversity in their winners.


This year, the Oscars shocked the world by nominating two women for Best Director, one being Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) and the other being Emerald Fennell (A Promising Young Woman). Zhao’s nomination marks a specific milestone, that being the first nomination of a woman of color for Best Director. Since 1976, The Academy has only recognized five women in the Best Director category, with only one winning.


The Oscars have commonly been accused of holding racist and sexist biases. Hashtags such as #OscarsSoWhite, #WhiteWashedOUT, and #TimesUp have continuously campaigned for more diversity in the Oscars and in the film industry in general. The Academy has put out statements claiming to be supportive of these social movements, as well as committing themselves to further improvement of diversity. But are their actions holding up to their promises?

(From L-R): Director/Writer Chloé Zhao, Director of Photography Joshua Richardson and Frances McDormand on the set of NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

All signs point to no. Or at least, not yet. The fact that the world is just now seeing a woman of color in contention for best director shows gradual progress while also serving as a reminder of how little Hollywood, specifically the Oscars, has truly changed with the times.


Though they are often considered “elders” in the industry, the older, white men who mostly make up the Academy is one of many things holding the Oscars back from making considerable progress when it comes to equitability or general diversity.
While a good film has the ability to be relatable to anyone, there are simply things that older white men will not be able to fully relate to. Stories about marginalized groups continuously go unawarded and unrecognized, and it’s not too far-fetched to assume it has something to do with the Academy’s demographic.


With dismal stats when it comes to the nomination of women, and even more depressing stats when it comes to women actually winning, it’s clear that the Oscars has a lot of work to do. This work needs to start with the Academy, considering the fact that if nothing changes behind the scenes, it’s clear nothing will change beyond them. It’s important to recognize the implicit biases that members of the Academy may have, and how this would affect their ability to judge a group of films. Regardless of any contracts and oaths they may take, humans are bound to have biases, and it’s important to recognize them, especially in an organization that takes the responsibility of rewarding something to be “the best.”
As we’ve seen in the past few years, women and people of color are beginning to get more nominations and awards than we’ve seen in the past, but the road to complete equity is going to be a long (or even impossible) one.
The Academy still has miles to go before they could ever call themselves “equitable,” and their current actions don’t entirely match up with their support and apparent commitment to diversification and representation.

(L to R) Director of photography Benjamin Kracun, writer / director Emerald Fennell, actor Sam Richardson, and actor Carey Mulligan on the set of PROMSING YOUNG WOMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit : Merie Weismiller Wallace / Focus Features

Sources:

A Conversation with the Creator of #OscarsSoWhite
https://www.npr.org/2016/01/25/464244160/a-conversation-with-the-creator-of-oscarssowhite

The Hashtag That Changed the Oscars
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/06/movies/oscarssowhite-history.html

The Oscars and Race: A Stir Over Rules to Change the Academy
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/movies/the-oscars-and-race-a-stir-over-rules-to-change-the-academy.html

Asian-American Actors are Fighting for Visibility. They Will Not Be Ignored
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/movies/asian-american-actors-are-fighting-for-visibility-they-will-not-be-ignored.html

Time’s Up a Year Later: Hollywood Women Test Their Clout
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/movies/times-up-hollywood-women.html

Chloé Zhao Makes History as First Asian Woman to Win Best Director
https://ew.com/awards/golden-globes/chloe-zhao-makes-history-best-director-golden-globes/

Oscars Make History By Nominating Two Women Directors
https://variety.com/2021/film/news/chloe-zhao-emerald-fennell-best-director-oscar-nominations-1234930889/

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