When an Oscar win is called historic, it ultimately means that someone, other than a white man, was awarded in one of the main categories—which says a lot about the awards.
Every year the Oscars have made history, whether it’s been a Black woman winning Best Actress for the first time or a non-English film winning Best Picture. This year’s awards also came with some historic and long-awaited firsts.
In the Academy Awards’ 93-year run, only one woman of color has won the award for Best Directing. That historic win just occurred last weekend, as Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao was awarded for her work on the critically acclaimed film, “Nomadland.”
While I am happy that a woman of color has finally won the award, it’s really upsetting to know just how imbalanced the directing category is. How is it that out of 454 total directing nominations, only seven have gone to women throughout the years?
It has definitely taken way too long for this historic win to happen, over 90 years, but are we really surprised? For so long, the film industry has been dominated and overwhelmingly represented by white men.
According to Insider, 89% of nominations in the top categories have gone to white people, throughout the past decade. The rest of the nominees were made up of 6.3% Black people, 2.6% Latinx, and 1.4% Asian people. It was also reported that in the top categories, 71.1% of nominees were men, while only 28.8% of nominees were women.
But the gender gap and lack of diversity isn’t only prevalent in the nominations. In a 2016 study by the Los Angeles Times, it was reported that 91% of Academy members were white and 76% were males averaging 63 years of age.
Evidently, it’s mainly white, older men deciding who wins and who loses. And despite the inclusion of newer, diverse members, the numbers remain relatively the same. How is that fair?
The Academy Awards are no strangers to controversy and backlash due to its lack of diversity and representation. In 2015, #OscarsSoWhite trended after only white actors were nominated in all the acting categories for a second year in a row. The mostly white nominees led to several actors and film director, Spike Lee, boycotting the awards.
The hashtag’s popularity and underlying demands were not to be ignored. In response to all the backlash and boycotts, the Academy did make some changes and the following year, nominations were much more diverse.
Since then, there’s been even more changes and progress. Out of the 235 individual nominees for this year’s show, a record high of 76 were women. Another record was also set this year as Zhao and Emerald Fennell, director of “Promising Young Woman,” became the only two women to be nominated for Best Director in the same year.
As changes roll out, so do more historic firsts. Last year’s Best Picture win for “Parasite” comes to mind as the most memorable, as it became the first non-English film to win an Oscar for that category. Seeing and knowing how impactful that win was, made me realize that this could one day become the new normal for the Oscars.
In September 2020, the Academy ended up making more prominent changes by establishing representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility. The Guardian explained that these standards are “intended to encourage diversity and equitable representation on screen and off, addressing gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and disability.”
While I believe this is a great move, it makes me wonder why it took so long for such standards to be implemented. Has the Academy finally understood all the issues it has? Or is it just trying to not lose relevance?
It also makes me curious as to what the future of a predominately white Hollywood will look like. But until those standards fully go into effect, all I can do for now is hope for more representation and even more historic wins.