Waiting for diversity at the Academy Awards


Amelia Sheehan '20

The Academy nominated actors, actresses, directors, composers, and producers for the ninety-second Annual Academy Awards.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there were no female directors nominated at the first Academy Awards in 1929.  In 2020, all of the nominees were still men.  This historic ceremony that honors achievements in the film industry failed to honor the countless number of talented females as well as recognize a more diverse group of actors, directors, producers, and composers.

A-List actors and actresses gathered at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California for the Ninety-Second Annual Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, February 9.  For the second year in a row, the Oscars were hostless, but Mr. Steve Martin, American Actor, and Mr. Chris Rock, American Comedian, opened the ceremony with a satirical monologue, according to The New York Times

“There’s so many — so many great directors nominated this year,” Mr. Rock said, according to The New York Times.  “I don’t know, Chris, I thought there was something missing from the list this year,” Mr. Martin said in response, referring to the absence of female nominees in the “Best Director” category.

Mr. Steve Martin and Mr. Chris Rock opening the Ninety-Second Annual Academy Awards with a monologue.  Courtesy of The New York Times

Not so different from the lack of women recognized, the overwhelmingly white list of nominees felt like a symbol of regression instead of the progress expected in 2020.  There was only one actor of color nominated at this year’s Academy Awards, Ms. Cynthia Erivo, English actress and songwriter, for her performance in Harriet, according to The New York Times.

“In 1929, there were no black acting nominees,” Mr. Martin said. “And now, in 2020, we got one,” Mr. Rock said, criticizing the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards.

The Academy is comprised of film artists who work in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures, according to oscars.org.  Statistics reveal that 76 percent of the members are male, 94 percent of the members are white, and are on average 63 years old, according to latimes.com.

In 2015, Mr. Spike Lee, American Film Director and Ms. Jada Pinkett-Smith, American Actress, led the #OscarsSoWhite campaign to shed light on the Academy’s tendency to exclusively celebrate white filmmakers and artists, according to The Washington Post.

“As a result, the newly implemented 2020 initiative will attempt to diversify the Academy, with a goal of making the body twice as diverse by the end of the decade,” according to motionpictures.org.

Sacred Heart Greenwich alumna Ms. Hanna Sheehan ’17  and current junior at The University of California, Santa Barbara, is a Film and Media Studies and Spanish double major.  She believes that the issue does not necessarily lie in the hands of the Academy, but rather in the hands of the American motion picture industry as a whole.

“The problem with this year’s Oscars is not as simple as people being robbed of nominations, instead it is something rooted much deeper in society,” Ms. Sheehan said.  “It has become obvious that we need to reevaluate what stories and people are given a voice.”

“Hair Love” is a film about an African-American father who styles his daughters’ hair teaches lessons about embracing self-love.  The short film won “Best Animated Short Film,” according to The New York Times. 

Amelia Sheehan ’20

Parasite made history as the first South Korean and foreign-language film to win”Best Picture,” according to The New York TimesParasite won four Oscars in the categories “Best Original Screenplay,” “Best Picture,” “Best Director,” and “Best International Feature Film.”  This success, along with that of “Hair Love,” represent an important milestone in film history.

Imagining a more diverse Academy Awards is compelling, but what is even more powerful is an idea that precedes that one: giving everyone the opportunity to be represented in the movies that are revered in award ceremonies like this one.  It is film that teaches people about experiences other than their own, and it is through film that so much change is possible.

“Film offers us insight and perspective on a discrete moment in time in order to further understand the human experience.  No one should ever be robbed of the opportunity to be represented like this,” Ms. Sheehan said.  “Movies are supposed to urge people to question norms and set paradigms.  To be able to relate is important, but sometimes it is even more important to be able to not relate.  Once we reevaluate who we choose to represent and why, we will be closer to making a necessary change.”

Featured Image by Amelia Sheehan ’20