The Oscars. The Emmys. The Tonys. The Grammys. The BAFTAs. The (eye roll) Golden Globes. Hollywood awards shows have been a staple for the entertainment industry for years… decades…eons. These ceremonies have celebrated the work of artists and how they have excelled in their respected fields: film, TV, music, and stage. The glamour, glitz and pageantry of it all has been a foundation of the entertainment industry and it has become the gold standard. But with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association crumbling and the constant fires needed to be put out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the awards show space is in danger, girl — and it’s about damn time.
In the past couple years, the world has witnessed a number of important movements: #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and Stop Asian Hate. There has also been a racial reckoning that has attempted to preserve of Indigenous culture and to prevent the mistreatment of the Latinx community. The LGBTQ revolution has continued since the Stonewall days and in particular, the transgender community has been vocal as they fight for their rights. Meanwhile, the disabled community has been wildly ignored.
All of this has put a glaring spotlight on America’s (and the world for that matter) treatment of all who have been historically underrepresented. This has impacted every job sector, and Hollywood has been trying to navigate the terrain.
Those who have been pushed to the margins have had enough while the dominant culture either refuses to loosen their grip on what they claim as theirs or are performative in attempts to make change. In fact, at this point, from these established institutions, everything is performative because of fear and inability to share.
As Hari Kondabolu once tweeted, “You pushed us to the margins. But now you’re surrounded.”
You pushed us to the margins.
But now you’re surrounded.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) March 1, 2021
Again and again, Hollywood has been trying their darnedest to make things more diverse and inclusive – from diverse writing programs and commitments to hire more people of color to studios and networks putting #BLM on their social media channels. The film and TV industry is doing the most it can to show that they care, or is it to cover their asses?
Don’t get me wrong: Commitments are great, but it seems like hollow promises. I mean, I have committed to a diet many times, but that is just an easy commitment to break. Inclusive commitments are just as easy, if not easier, to break.
As far as the Oscars are concerned, marginalized communities can and will still vie for trophies from the Academy, but as Brooke Obie, Deputy Director of Refinery29‘s Unbothered, said on Tre’vell Anderson and Jarrett Hill’s FANTI Podcast, it might be time to divest from the Oscars. There are enough people of color, LGBTQ organizations and associations in Hollywood that represent underserved voices to create our own film Academy that will celebrate the art and work of underrepresented communities.
My argument for doing so is simple: When it comes to diversity, Hollywood has a problem. Film and TV has a sordid past that it tries to sweep under the rug. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, toxic masculinity and variety pack of prejudice and discrimination has been baked in from the inception of Hollywood. This has made it wildly difficult for someone who isn’t a white cisgender heterosexual male to succeed.
The dominant culture may argue that this isn’t true, but as Obie says, Hollywood’s awards ceremonies were not created for people of color, and it is why we are disappointed every passing year when the nominations and subsequent winners are announced for the Oscars, Emmys and all these other industry accolades. I wrote how we set ourselves up for disappointment in April.
Hollywood loves patting itself on the back with the glitz and glamor of awards ceremonies. It celebrates film and TV excellence so if you win an Oscar or Emmy, you receive validation of your work as an actor, filmmaker, director, composer, cinematographer, costume designer, sound mixer and every other role required to produce Hollywood art. Some films and TV series vie for this from the jump while others are fine with just existing as a form of entertainment. However, when you win, it guarantees a considerable boost to your salary. Not only that, it opens the doors to more opportunities — and in Hollywood, opportunity begets opportunity.
As much honor there is in winning an Academy Award or other Hollywood accolade, for traditionally marginalized people, it is ultimately a form of white validation. Hollywood was built by and for white people and people of color and those in the margins weren’t meant to succeed. White people didn’t realize they needed us until they needed to fill roles for how they saw us: as caricatures – but that is a whole other conversation.
In 1940 when Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Gone With The Wind, she made history as the first Black person to ever win an Oscar. McDaniel’s win was a groundbreaking and will forever be remembered, but the fact that the film’s producer David O. Selznick had to ask for a special favor to allow her into the ceremony, which took place at the whites-only Ambassador Hotel, is telling of the uphill battle Black people and people of color in general would have to face in Hollywood in the decades to come.
The Oscars is supposedly the crème de la crème of awards shows — for white people. Sure, we’ve hit major milestones with wins for Black people, Asians, the Latinx community and others. However, it’s a drop of color in a huge bucket of white paint. It will mix, but eventually the white will dominate.
After McDaniel, we wouldn’t see another Black person win an acting award until Sidney Poitier won Best Actor for his role in the 1963 film Lilies of the Field. From there, we saw Black wins across the board, which at the time seemed great, but in retrospect, the wins and nominations were sporadic and continue to reflect that Hollywood awards shows are a white person’s game. Period.
If we continue to look at the history of Oscars for people in the margins, there have been plenty of nominations in the main categories — but the wins don’t add up to be representative enough of the work that those in the margins create for Hollywood.
There have been winners of Asian descent including Miyoshi Umeki who won for Best Supporting Actress for Sayonara (1957). She was the first Asian and the first Japanese actress to be nominated and to win for the category. But like the Black community, the wins for Asian Hollywood have been sporadic throughout the decades — and much more rare. Ben Kingsley for Gandhi (1982) earned a trophy for his performance while Cambodian actor Haing S. Ngor of The Killing Fields (1984) won with his debut performance.
Ang Lee has been Hollywood’s Golden Boy as he was the first person of color and first Asian to win best director – but this was in 2006. It took 78 years for the Oscars to recognize a person of color as best director.
There are good things to celebrate. Chloe Zhao became the first woman to win Best Director this year for Nomadland and Minari actress Yuh-jung Youn won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, making history as the first Korean to take home the honor. This was after Parasite actors were nominated, despite the fact that Bong Joon-ho won Best Director and Best Picture the year prior.
Sound of Metal‘s Riz Ahmed made history as the first South Asian and Muslim actor nominated for Best Actor alongside Minari‘s Steven Yeun, who made history as the first Asian American actor nominated in the category. They were nominated alongside the late, great Chadwick Boseman who was on a winning streak for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. But in the end, Anthony Hopkins won for The Father.
Are you sensing a pattern here? Now, let’s see how the Latinx community fares.
In 2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Picture for Birdman. It took 87 years but for a Latin American to win that honor. I mean, that’s a long time, but better late than never, right? But Latinx directors definitely racked up points in the same decade:
- 2013: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
- 2015: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
- 2017: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
- 2018: Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
As much as I appreciate these wins, it’s as if Oscars only recognize Cuaron, Iñárritu and del Toro as the only Latinx filmmakers out there when there is a wealth of filmmaking talent — they just don’t bother to look. As far as acting honors, it’s a short list which includes Rita Moreno for best Supporting Actress in West Side Story … in 1962.
As you dig deeper, it gets more and more disappointing. There are little to no wins or nominations for the Indigenous community. LGBTQ representation is a whole other conversation because there are those who lived their life openly, and those who are closeted. Then there’s the issue about hetero cisgender actors portraying LGBTQ characters. And when it comes to disabled representation, there have been only two disabled actors to win at the Oscars in its 93 year run: Harold Russell for The Best Years of Our Lives in 1946 and Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God in 1987.
A lot of this has to do with the membership makeup of the organization just as much as it has to do with the industry as a whole. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Oscar voters were 94% white and 77% male.
In 2016, there was little change as the voter makeup was 91% white and 76% male. In 2020, the Oscar voter invitee list included 49% international, 45% women, and 36% underrepresented ethnic/racial.
And of course, there the aforementioned problematic organization, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, that puts on the Golden Globes. It consists of eighty-something international press members no one knows, and it seems to award whoever gives them the most attention, or in later years, ratings.
This year, the Golden Globes excluded many critically acclaimed projects led by people of color — as expected. The HFPA may know how to throw a great afterparty, but the girls who run the show are a disappointment. However, after 78 years, they are finally being called out on their bullshit and just for being a problematic organization. The Los Angeles Times published a two articles that put a glaring spotlight on the corruption happening behind the scenes. The HFPA was also called out for its lack of Black members and their sorry attempt to bolster inclusivity within its membership.
And let’s not forget when long-time HFPA member and former president of the organization, Philip Berk was expelled for sending a racist email describing the Black Lives Matter as a “racist hate movement.” He also criticized BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors for buying a home in Topanga Canyon.
All of this is catching up with the HFPA. Even though they are trying their best to change things — it is not enough. Amazon and Netflix has been distancing themselves from the HFPA while NBC has decided against being the home of the 2022 Golden Globes.
For years, it’s been an open secret that the HFPA is, what many people call, “star fuckers” — but everyone just rolled with it. But how did Hollywood let this group of non-diverse, unknown press members from barely known publications from all over the world be the unofficial kick off to awards season? It just doesn’t add up.
Before the fallout, there was buzz about the Globes being a revenue stream for networks and at the same time, publicists embraced the Globes because they were strategically scheduled before the Oscars and a way for their client to get noticed before Hollywood’s biggest night. Now, publicists have turned on the HFPA.
The problems concerning awards shows go beyond the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Ever since the #OscarSoWhite campaign launched by April Reign in 2015, there have been many attempts to make the awards landscape inclusive. This is all appreciated but it’s not enough. It will never be enough because these shows aren’t for those in the margins. These awards were not designed for us. Each win is very appreciated, but with every passing year, we set ourselves up for disappointment. It feels like each win is someone saying “you should just be happy to be here.” Hollywood’s handling of diversity and inclusion is similar to how Michael Scott handled “diversity day” in one of the best episodes of The Office.
So if all these commitments, initiatives and diversity programs aren’t working, what do we do to fix it? We don’t do anything. We build our own table.
Yes, awards shows matter. They are traditional way of validating and celebrating the work of Hollywood — but as American tradition goes, it caters to the dominant culture. Hollywood needs to pay more attention to more inclusive awards shows that recognize and celebrate the change and then grow with the progress the real world is witnessing when it comes to inclusivity, such as the Independent Spirit Awards, the Peabody awards, the NAACP Image Awards and things that aren’t so … white.
The Academy, the HFPA, studios, networks and these older Hollywood organizations should be commended for their attempt but change takes time and there is plenty of trial and error — as we have seen. It’s why a more inclusive Hollywood shouldn’t rely on white-dominated institutions trying to change their ways at a glacial pace.
Change happens from those in the margins building their own systems that benefit not only themselves but the entire world around them.