A Dive Into Diversity and Awards
A look into the inclusivity issues of award shows and their impacts on Hollywood.
Joaquin Phoenix is having a good awards season, so far having won BAFTA, SAG, and Critic’s Choice awards as well as a Golden Globe for his role as Arthur Fleck in Joker. A shoe-in for best actor at the Oscars, Phoenix should have nothing to worry about. However, his successful award season has not been without turbulence. In the wake of diversity critiques to the nominations across the board, Phoenix joined in by calling out the entirety of Hollywood for its lack of diversity and recognition towards people of color in the industry. In his BAFTA acceptance speech, Phoenix stated, “I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we are sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from… I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. I think that it is the obligation of the people that have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression be the ones that dismantle it. So that’s on us.”
Systemic racism has been a part of awards season for ages, shutting out, or “snubbing” people of color despite their incredible work. This year’s snubs of The Farewell, Jennifer Lopez’s role in Hustlers, and Greta Gerwig for Best Director for Little Women— the list goes on — highlight the award shows, especially repeated problems with their nominations. Parasite is the exception this year, but it may just be another token nod to diversity that isn’t really there. The ensemble cast’s win at the SAG Awards was huge, and overshadowed the other best acting winners, all of which were white, Phoenix for Joker, Zellwegger for Judy, Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Dern for Marriage Story. More people were talking about Parasite’s groundbreaking win than the stereotypically all-white wins that were pushed to the background. Though it may seem like the SAG awards are moving forward, accepting new artistic perspectives, there may not be much improvement in the future.
“Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
— Bong Joon Ho, director of Parasite.
The diversity of the academy is less than stellar; their voting pool is made up of a majority of white men. Many of the “snubbed” movies were not made for a predominantly white male audience. Despite its recent attempts at accepting more women and people of color into their pool, women only make up 39% and minorities make up about 30%.This could explain the overlooking of these movies in favor of movies specifically aimed at a majority of award show voters.
Halle Berry, for example, is the first actress of color to win Best Actress at the Oscars for her role in Monster’s Ball. She also happens to be the only actress of color to win in that category. Since 2002, no other actress of color has won that category at all. A few have been nominated, none have actually won. In an interview with Teen Vogue, Berry stated, “I sat there and I really thought, ‘Wow, that moment really meant nothing. It meant nothing. I thought it meant something, but I think it meant nothing.’” What should have paved the road for many other women of color to thrive, had proved otherwise, not changing anything.
The Academy seems to nominate people of color and continues to get many more to announce the winners, making them appear more diverse than they are. Playing into the trope that movies themselves have created, the Academy uses people of color as tokens to mask their lack of diversity. Setting up actors of color around the success of their white peers as an appeal to minorities. For the 2020 show, they had Issa Rae and John Cho announce entirely white categories. Rae added at the end of the director’s category, “Congratulations to those men.” A clear hint at her dismay of the lack of female directors nominated.
According to author Stephen King, “For me, the diversity issue — as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway — did not come up. That said I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.” His tweet quickly gained attention for the wrong reasons. In this case King is implying that diversity and quality of art are not related. The two bring different, unique perspectives to cinema, and should be considered appropriately.
No one wants to see the same thing over and over again. The issue with this mindset is that there were plenty of good options that deserved recognition that were looked over, like Greta Gerwig for Little Women, Olivia Wilde for Booksmart, Lulu Wang for The Farewell, and so many other female directors. Ignoring the importance of diverse perspectives in Hollywood is detrimental and is turning people away from award shows completely.
As demonstrated in Phoenix’s BAFTA acceptance, it is up to those making the decisions and those who perpetuate the cycle that silences minorities and diversity to fix their issues, and make a more inclusive environment for the film industry to grow.