The 2017 Oscars, a giant leap forward for diversity

February 24, 2017

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, Jada Pinkett Smith along with her husband-actor Will Smith, director Spike Lee and other African Americans in Hollywood boycotted the Oscars because of its lack of diversity.

Rallies were held across the country intended to support a push for a nationwide TV tune-out of the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony.

The protesters took a necessary stand against an awards show that had come to embody a diversity problem in the entertainment industry.

The uproar compelled Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to implement a restructuring of the organization’s membership to try and make it more reflective of women and minorities.

However, this year is different, as there are a record number of Blacks nominated for acting Oscars.

Six Black actors are up for an Academy Award at Sunday’s ceremony. Dev Patel, who is of Asian descent, is nominated for best actor. “Hidden Figures,” a movie about pioneering African-American women mathematicians who worked at NASA is nominated for best picture. “Fence,” a movie directed by Denzel Washington about working-class African-American family in Pittsburgh, is also nominated for best picture.

The increased diversity is a significant change from the past two years, when all-white acting nominees led to the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and a national conversation on race in Hollywood.

But Tinseltown’s diversity problem appears to go beyond the lack of Oscar nominations for African-Americans and other non-white actors.

A New York Times column titled “What Does the Academy Value in a Black Performance?” reveals a pattern in the 28 films in which Blacks have been nominated for best actress or actor on 30 occasions,

Writer Brandon K. Thorp says that most of the movies have been written and directed by white men and that “so many of these nominees have portrayed the poor, imprisoned, great or tragic.”

The real change will come when more African Americans like Washington, “Hidden Figures” star Octavia Spencer, who has her own production company, and other minorities tell more stories that reflect diversity.

Spencer, who won the Academy Award six years ago for best supporting actress in “The Help,” said she wants to create a lane for women and people of color to share their untold stories in film, much like “Hidden Figures,” where she portrays Dorothy Vaughan, who leads the team of Black female mathematicians at NASA.

“We are multifaceted people,” said Spencer. “Yes, women of color served in people’s kitchens and cleaned people’s houses. But there are African-American doctors, scientists and lawyers.

“Those are the types of stories that we also want to see presented in film,” she said.

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