The Academy Can’t Keep Up With Hollywood


Joaquin Pheonix, who won best actor for his role in “Joker” criticized the dairy industry in his Oscars speech. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Grace Robinson, Contributing Writer

If you’re a movie geek like me, then you wait all year for the Oscars. I love gazing at the red carpet looks, seeing the familiar faces of the movie industry and casting my predictions for winning nominations. The Oscars have been around for 92 years, so we rarely question this annual tradition.

We have grown up with this ceremony, choosing winners based on an academy. The show operates completely through the Hollywood elite, and with few exceptions, has shown little progress in its many years of airing.

In the last decade, the lack of diversity in the Oscars, and in the Academy itself, has diminished my excitement. As diversity in film is increasing, the Academy continues to present awards to an overwhelming majority of white, male nominees. This year’s Oscars brought exciting nominations such as “Parasite,” “Little Women” and “Hair Love,” choices that recognized foreign films, female directors and people of color, respectively. Yet there remains a long list of underrepresented directors and movies that the Academy failed to notice.

Representation in film is so important, and within the last five years, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has called out the Academy on its lack of diverse winners. The Oscars have praised themselves this year with “Parasite,” the first foreign film to ever take the top prize. “Parasite” ended the night with four Oscars, most notably for Best Picture and Best Director.

It has been 16 years since a foreign film has taken the big prize of Best Picture, and Bong Joon-Ho’s big win restores my faith that the realm of foreign films is not being ignored.

While I am thrilled “Parasite” is rightfully gaining recognition, the Oscars still continues to lack representation among non-whites, women and queer individuals. Choosing to only celebrate this accomplishment is ignorant.

If there is a film and director that I feel the most inspired by, it is “Little Women,” directed by Greta Gerwig. Yet, unsurprisingly, “Little Women” took home only one Oscar, for Best Costume Design. It speaks volumes when the only female-directed film brought to attention in the Oscars is given the prize for the best costume The Best Director nominations did not even include Gerwig, one of the strongest female directors of our time.

Another disheartening fact of the Oscars is the demographics of the Academy itself. With 94% of the voters being white, and 77% male, should we be surprised that white males continue to dominate the nominations and awards?

In 2017, the Oscars had 18 black nominees, while 2020 only had five. While Joon Ho’s sweep at the Oscars may lead us to believe the Academy has become more inclusive, there are an overwhelming number of people who do not see themselves depicted in the annual award show.

A few exceptions of the night included Janelle Monaé’s opening performance and “Hair Love” winning the Best Animated Short Film. Monaé, a queer black artist, prepared a performance Hollywood needed but was definitely not worthy of.

Her musical piece showcased the growing number of women and people of color in the film industry, films that were not particularly recognized by the Academy including “Us,” “Midsommar,” “Little Women” and “Dolemite is My Name.”

I am thankful for Monaé’s performance. Without it, these films and directors would have gone unnoticed on film’s biggest night. One of the biggest disappointments was the overlook of Jordan Peele’s “Us” and its lead actress Lupita Nyong’o. This incredible film, featuring an all-black cast, was not recognized at all by the Academy, but thankfully was by Monaé.

I am also thankful for the 45-second speeches given by the award winners that manage to often touch on the most relevant political issues. These 45 seconds, often cut out by the intensifying music, leave us reflecting on our purpose in life just as much as the movies that brought us to the Oscars.

Joaquin Phoenix, who won Best Actor for “Joker,” pled for animal rights and social inequalities by expressing the need for love and peace as our top values. Phoenix also gave praise to the stunt team, a field which goes highly unrecognized by the Academy. These are people who risk their lives every day for the production value we expect.

Another memorable speech was given by Matthew Cherry after receiving an award for “Hair Love,” in which he expressed the need for representation in animation, and how this is the first step in normalizing “black hair.”

Although this is an award show I grew up watching, it should not be the same as when I was a child. When the camera casts itself on the audience, I should not only see Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and the other white men that have been recognized time and time again.

I should see Gerwig, Nyong’o and the new faces of the film industry. With or without the Academy, I believe the underrepresented films will be appreciated by the strong support of true movie lovers.