In 2016, the campaign #OscarsSoWhite surfaced on the internet, calling out the Oscar academy for its inclusion and lack thereof. There were zero Oscar nominees for people of color that year and the year before in the Best Actor category, the least diverse it has been for its second consecutive year. In 2013, the LA Times said, “Of the more than 6,000 members of the Academy, 93 percent were white and 73 percent were male.”
Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee conducted separate messages on their forfeit from the Oscars. “Begging for acknowledgment or even asking diminishes dignity, it diminishes power and we are a dignified people and we are powerful and let’s not forget it,” said Pinkett.
This year’s 2019 Oscars went beyond the academy’s annual “push” for diversity, transitioning from no nominees of color to 10 winners.
Among these winners were many firsts. Ruth E. Carter, the first black woman to win an Oscar for costume design for “Black Panther,” Hannah Bleacher, the first black person to win an award for Best Production Design for “Black Panther” and Peter Ramsey, the first black director to ever win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” “Black Panther” was also the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture.
Seeing all these winners, not just in the actor category but spread amongst various genres, was astronomical and well overdue. This is nothing new; these actors and actresses, producers, directors and designers have been perfecting their craft for years, the only thing that is new is the recognition.
Actress Regina King was granted her first nomination and won her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The standing ovation from the audience and the warm embrace from fellow actress Maya Rudolph created an aura of admiration and all eyes were on King. When giving her acceptance speech in front of her peers and members of the academy, she spoke clear and full of emotion. She took a glance at the golden trophy in her hand and locked eyes with her mother. She did it. “I am an example of what it looks like when support and love is poured into someone,” said King.
Another first goes to film director Spike Lee, who has produced over 35 films since 1983 and won his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman.” Long time friend Samuel L. Jackson presented Lee with the award which made the win much more special.
Lee started his speech by giving his thanks and said “The word today is irony.” The irony was that February is the shortest month of year and Black History Month. The irony of the year 2019 is that it has been 400 years since slaves were brought to the new world, the same month and year Lee stood center stage to receive his first Oscar. He spoke of how his grandmother, who graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, despite her mother being a slave, saved 50 years of social security checks to put him through Morehouse College in Atlanta and NYU Graduate Film School.
He closed his remarks with, “The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize, let’s all be on the right side of history, make the moral choice between love versus hate, let’s do the right thing.”
Senior musical theater major Patrice Hrabowskie said, “My favorite win was Regina King because there are very few black women who have won an Oscar. She gives representation to young black female actors. It means I am capable of getting an Oscar as well. I want to go above and get Best Actress, but I am very thankful for the women who have set a path for me.
“I hope that we no longer have to count how many black people have an Oscar, because it will no longer be surprising. It should be normal,” said Hrabowskie.
The Oscars is a conversation consumers seem to only have once a year when the nominees debut but there is a more profound discussion that needs to be had frequently. CEOs in the entertainment industry and Hollywood studios who have the power to greenlight projects and even hold them back need to do more in terms of diversity to allow the different faces of art to present themselves. There were so many firsts that evening that set the path for those coming after them and this is what everyone needed to see.
Here’s to the firsts.
sophomore journalism major