Last year, the Oscars was filled with controversy over #OscarsSoWhite, because actor nominated was white. This year six black actors are nominated, along with British-Indian actor Dev Patel. Twitter noticed and came up with another hashtag, #OscarsSoBlack. It was of course, a playful hashtag, because as anyone could notice, seven actors of color is not a lot. In an industry that has been dominated by white people for decades, and where firsts for creators of color are still happening. Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, is the first black man to be nominated Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. And if he wins the Best Director nomination, he will be the first black man to do so. So, when it comes to Hollywood and #OscarsSoBlack, the reality of it is, seven actors of color is nothing to the immense amount of non-white talent in the industry that never gets acknowledged and the white talent that always does. Hollywood will nominate stories about people of color, but will they ever let them win?
Hollywood loves to pretend it is the most accepting and diverse place on the planet, but it will not acknowledge it has a diversity problem. From whitewashing to the #OscarsSoWhite movement, it is becoming increasingly obvious to all people that Hollywood is not as progressive as it likes to be seen as. Currently, this fight of white Hollywood versus diversity has two Oscar nominated films as symbolic proxies. Moonlight and La La Land. Moonlight tells a coming of age narrative about a black young man in Florida who struggles with the eternal conflict of being black and being gay. La La Land tells the story of Hollywood itself, with one character being a struggling actress who writes a play to get a part and a white guy who wants to save Jazz. One is visually stunning and one is a love letter to Hollywood. “For years, the movie industry has been accused of existing in a fatuous, self-congratulatory bubble. But if the current political culture has proved anything, it’s that we’re all in bubbles now: Hollywood’s hermetic biosphere happens to be this country’s chief cultural export, its annual celebration a snapshot of American life beamed across the world for billions of viewers to interpret like a coded back-channel missive from the very core of our soft power.” Hollywood sells stories, it sells America to places all over the globe, and with the Oscars, it awards those stories with the highest honor. What does it say about Hollywood, about America, when its highest honor goes to a self-congratulatory safety choice?
People need to see stories about themselves, they need to see those stories be celebrated. After marriage equality was passed, rates of suicide for LGBT teens went down.”A staggering 28.5 percent of high school students who are sexual minorities attempt suicide each year. If marriage equality helps keep one of them from killing herself, or the trauma of trying, that would be a blessing beyond measure. That it might correlate with a decline in attempted suicides among all gay kids — the study assesses 134,000 fewer incidents a year“. Representation is good for more than just Hollywood. Art is political, all in the industry knows that, and in this world where the Press and expressionism is the Presidents mortal enemy, Hollywood must step up. The Department of Homeland Security blocked Khaled Khatib, the Syrian cinematographer of the Oscar nominated foreign film The White Helmets, from traveling to Los Angeles for the Oscars.
Moonlight needs to win Best Picture, to show that it is committed to diversity and honoring films that deserve it, not just films that show Hollywood what it wants to see. It is not an honor to just be nominated anymore. Hollywood needs to step up and show the real America on screen and recognize the whole, not just the parts.
(This post was made before the 2017 Oscars and will be updated accordingly. This years nominees can be found here.)
Update: Moonlight has won Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars. After a night of racist jokes by Jimmy Kimmel and a mix up that tainted the Best Picture moment, a black story not about slavery won.