The 2017 Oscar Nominations Are Out, and It’s #GoodNightSoWhite
After two consecutive years of white actors and actresses dominating the acting categories for Hollywood’s biggest night — and two years of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite pointing out that the problem goes back much further — it appears as though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might finally be headed in the right direction: The 2017 Oscar nominations, announced Tuesday morning, represent a strong and much-needed push for diversity and inclusion.
Three black actresses (Viola Davis, Naomie Harris, and Octavia Spencer) have garnered nods in the Best Supporting Actress category — the first time ever that women of color have dominated an acting category. And with Denzel Washington up for Best Actor, Ruth Negga for Best Actress, and Mahershala Ali for Supporting Actor, this is the first time all four acting categories have seen simultaneous black representation.
But it’s not just acting — other major film categories also saw a huge upswing in diverse nominations. Three films with themes centered around predominantly black characters (Moonlight, Fences, and Hidden Figures), along with three black film producers (Denzel Washington, Kimberly Steward, and Pharrell Williams), were nominated in the Best Picture category — this has never happened. Barry Jenkins, director and screenwriter of Moonlight, became only the fourth black director to be nominated for Best Director. In the adapted screenplay category, both the late August Wilson (Fences) and Moonlight’s Jenkins were nominated. Jenkins became the first black filmmaker to ever be nominated for screenwriting, producing, and directing their own film.
These historic waves didn’t happen because of a change of heart within the Academy — which has basically always been a class of old white men — but because of deliberate structural changes that made Oscar voters look more like the nominees. In 2016, the Academy prioritized diversity recruitment for new members, leading to an astounding 41 percent of its 683 new classmates being of color and raising the overall Academy numbers from 8 percent to 11 percent people of color.
When industries proactively seek diversity, it will yield the type of changes they are hoping for — today’s nominations are important proof of that. Don’t mistake them as tokenism, but as a sign that internal diversity is shifting to reflect a more accurate acknowledgment of diverse talent.
If anyone out there is struggling to improve the diversity of their own staff and strategy, let the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences be an example: They just went from #OscarsSoWhite to #OscarsSoDiverse.