Hollywood has come a long way from #OscarsSoWhite
In this exclusive op-ed for theGrio.com, African American Film Critics Association Vice President, Daryle Lockhart, reflects on the status of diversity in Hollywood, a year after 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite boycott.
When NO Black actors were nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards, I was disappointed. But like many of you, I thought it was an anomaly. I didn’t like some of the excuses that were tossed around as to why certain directors couldn’t be nominated, or why certain actors’ performances didn’t seem to warrant nomination.
When it happened AGAIN in 2016, I was equally disappointed – and disturbed. I then shared April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, and joined in the discussion that took place in the industry and beyond.
I felt that this was more than an oversight. It was the result of a huge problem in this industry.
As we are seeing around the country right now, when Americans are upset about something, we say so. We march, we yell, we vote (well, some of us do), we walk out, and we protest. But the protests should also have a goal. The #OscarsSoWhite protest did have a goal. It wasn’t just a boycott. It wasn’t just a hashtag. It wasn’t just a few actors being sore losers. The overall idea was to bring to the attention of the industry (and those who love it) that actors, directors, and other creative people of color in the business were contributing work that was being ignored on Hollywood’s biggest night.
We still have a long way to go in this business. For example, there’s still the idea of “The DuVernay Test,” which is an idea best expressed by Manohla Dargis at The New York Times. It’s like the Bechdel test, but for racial diversity.
The idea is to require that African-Americans and other characters of color have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories. There are a few movies released in 2016 that, had this test been applied at the pre-production stage, would have led to more enjoyable projects. There is still this idea that throwing a “Black friend” into a story helps the diversity of that story. The closer we get to erasing that idea and practice, the better many of these stories will be — no matter what the budget.
That said, there has been progress. The voting membership of the Academy is on track to double the representation of women and people of color by 2020. That never would have happened without the community bringing this to everyone’s attention.
And those new voting members have quite a bit to choose from this year. A year ago, many of us were blown away by Ryan Coogler’s Creed and thought that Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation would be THE movie everyone would be talking about.
But there’s more.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, you’re missing a simply beautiful film. This wasn’t just a year that had a Tyler Perry movie successfully released nationwide, though we had that. This was a year where Miles Ahead — Don Cheadle’s biopic of Miles Davis — was finally released, and where Ava DuVernay delivered one of the best documentaries of the year with 13th.
We also saw a dramatic role delivered by Eddie Murphy in Mr. Church, controversial dramatic performances by Zoe Saldana and David Oyelowo in Nina, and the year is topped off with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis returning to their roles in the movie adaptation of Fences. Add to all of this the fantastic work Bradford Young did as director of photography in the science fiction film Arrival and two totally different performances by Forest Whitaker in that film and the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and you’ll see that we have brought out a lot of our best for 2016.
We have people of color in front of and behind the camera. We still need more, of course. Hollywood’s major players have spoken out about this in one way or another. Change is happening. It’s now up to the members of the Academy to do theirs and actually see the films. If there’s an #OscarsSoWhite three-peat, the fault will fall squarely on the shoulders of the Academy.
I submit that time for boycotting the Academy Awards over diversity has passed. It is time to move on. Not to forget. But to move on.
We’ve been disappointed and disturbed for 2 years in a row now. It certainly looks like the Academy (and perhaps, brands who advertise during the show?) understand what happened. Should this happen again, the Academy will be sending a clear message. Three times in a row, and we will have no choice but to acknowledge receipt of said message, and to act accordingly. No need to boycott. Just move on.
In my opinion, part of how we got here is in relying on one group to validate the great work that the hard working, creative people who make a living on these projects actually do. There isn’t any award as prestigious as the Oscar in our business. Or is there?
Of course, as Vice President of the African-American Film Critics Association, I’m partial to the annual AAFCA Awards in Los Angeles, but I am aware that there are many other organizations that applaud the contributions of African-Americans every year. We’re delighted that the Academy recognizes that a change needed to happen, and that they are taking steps. But we stand ready to celebrate our own. We stand ready to be our own harshest critics, hold our storytellers accountable when they play it too safe, and applaud them when they take risks that produce something wonderful.
It’s the dream of millions of young filmmakers to stand on the stage with an Oscar in hand celebrating their work. But it’s also the dream of these same artists to have their work seen. The latter is starting to happen now more than ever, with streaming service memberships on the rise and film festival attendance starting to rise a bit.
I think we should continue to challenge ourselves as viewers, by seeking out new films and perspectives, wherever they are. If we say we want to see more great stories that feature us, we need to be ready to catch them when they come our way. Don’t wait for the nomination ceremony before you go see these films. Seek them out now and always.
I certainly expect the Academy to join film fans — and creatives of color — as we move further and faster into the 21st Century. I don’t really see how the Academy survives if it doesn’t. I don’t see the need, therefore, to continue to boycott the awards.
It’s definitely time we focused our energies on supporting the work that is being done by African-American filmmakers as well as storytellers around the world.
Daryle Lockhart is a Vice-President of the African American Film Critics Association. Visit us at www.aafca.com