The Tylt

Why are the Oscars still so darn white in 2020?

In the early morning of Monday, January 13, many of us woke up to optimistically watch Issa Rae and John Cho announce the 2020 Academy Award nominees. The reason? Because it felt like, more than ever, cinema in 2019 had been diverse, with women and people of color owning the box office and earning acclaim for a variety of films.

So, we had our fingers crossed that the Oscar nominees would reflect what moviegoers had witnessed on the silver screen. Seated in front of red-velvet theater seats, Rae and Cho made their way through the categories. Each announcement was a dart to hope. Just like in 2015, our smiles turned into a level of disappointment that we seemed to share with the two talented presenters of color. At one point, Rae, after rattling off the Best Director category, looked into the camera with a subtle smirk and said, “Congratulations to those men,” throwing shade at the omission of “Little Women” director Greta Gerwig. In the end, almost no actors of color—the exception being one for yet another slave narrative—was awarded a nod. One step forward, two steps back—the Oscars so white, so male…had unfolded yet again.

The snubs stung. It was a repeat of 2015 when, like decades before in the Academy’s history, actors and filmmakers of color were excluded or vastly underrepresented among the nominees. Throughout the Oscars’ 90-plus-year history, people of color have advocated for better and more representation at award shows, and hence, in cinema and Hollywood.

It was one cinema super-fan, April Reign, who said enough is enough five years ago with a tweet and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. That post mobilized a movement focused on diversity and inclusion in Hollywood. But with the 2020 Oscar snubs, and with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still struggling to fully address the same diversity issues they committed to solving by this year, that very same #OscarsSoWhite movement is more relevant and needed than ever.

Reign—now known as the #OscarsSoWhite creator and a global diversity and inclusion advocate—was an attorney practicing campaign finance law with no connection to the entertainment industry outside of her love for film when her tweet and hashtag went viral.

“So that particular morning in January, I was watching the nominees on TV as I got ready for work, and Chris Hemsworth—who plays Thor in the ‘Avengers’/MCU—was one of the presenters. And it just struck me that category after category, there were no people of color nominated,” Reign recalled. “So I picked up my phone and got on Twitter and said, ’#OscarSoWhite they asked to touch my hair,’ and that’s was it.”

By lunchtime her tweet was trending worldwide.

“Initially I was being kind of snarky and petty, so those were the responses that we were getting, like ‘#OscarsSoWhite they find mayonnaise too spicy,’” Reign explained, sharing an example of a tweet received in response to hers blasting and poking fun at the Oscars.

A few days later, the hashtag shifted into a larger conversation about diversity and inclusion at the Oscars, as well as holistic representation for marginalized communities in the entertainment industry. According to Reign, there was even more interest around #OscarsSoWhite in 2016. The 88th Academy Awards repeated the previous year’s lack of diversity in the major categories.

“I think the industry and the media and everybody kind of woke up and said, okay one time is a fluke, two times is a pattern,” Reign said. “Maybe we need to see what this lady is actually talking about.”

In 2016, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences heard the rallying cry and committed to doubling the number of people of color and women by 2020. The Academy increased the number of its members of color from 8 percent in 2015 to 16 percent in 2019, while increasing its female members from 25 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2019. While the Academy has met its goal of doubling members of color, its number of women only increased 7 percent from 2015. The Academy is still 84 percent white and 68 percent male.

But on the other hand, Reign also pointed out that #OscarsSoWhite has helped Hollywood progress with the Oscars’ response to doubling its members among people of color and women.

“What it also means is that people who were not members of the academy six years ago are now,” Reign said. “People like Julie Dash who created ‘Daughters of the Dusk,’ and Melvin Van Peebles who I consider the godfather of blaxploitation films of the ’70s. So that is definitely progress in my mind.”

The progress #OscarSoWhite has meant to diversity and inclusion is not limited only to Hollywood. There’s now a #JournalismSoWhite, a #TechSoWhite and a #GrammysSoWhite. While Reign launched a movement, she said she can’t take 100 percent of the credit for the diversity and inclusion efforts that are now out there.

“I think it helps spur consumers to rethink how they receive their entertainment, how they consume their entertainment,” she said. “I'd like to think that in the last five years we have all become more savvy in saying we're not going to reward mediocrity, and we are not going to give our hurt, hard-earned dollars either in darkened movie theaters or to subscription services for entertainment that does not reflect facets of our experiences.”

In Hollywood, there are now inclusion riders working behind the scenes to ensure intentional diversity hiring practices in both casting and production. Some filmmakers and actors are creating their own production companies instead of continuing to try to make their way into legacy studios who have shut them out. Reign said the changes we are starting to see comes from these larger conversations about diversity and inclusion.

But in 2020, the #OscarsSoWhite movement remains relevant, with Reign saying there’s still much work left to be done. “I think we're just getting started,” she said. “There's a reason why #OscarsSoWhite is on the list of the media and the consumers every single year, even if I'm not the one starting the rallying cry.”

The #OscarsSoWhite movement has given the Academy five years to make significant structural changes, and according to Reign, the Academy has fallen short. “I think it's really time to start asking whether the academy is still relevant,” she explained. “It became the gold standard of the film industry because there was no one else to push back against that if you really think about it.”

As Reign noted, 92 years ago it was basically old white men wanting to celebrate their performances—and that's how the Oscars began. With the declining viewership in the telecast and lack of diversity, it’s time to change that.

“It has to do with the gatekeepers,” she said. “So even with all of the changes that the Academy says that they’ve made, we are still talking about a majority older, white male organization. So why should we expect change when the organization, the structure itself, hasn’t changed?”

The 2020 Oscar nominations signaled the status quo. Many were upset. Others in disbelief. Some not surprised. This year’s Oscar snubs consisted of diverse performances from marginalized identities and people of color, genre films (science fiction, fantasy and horror) and acclaimed blockbusters like “Avengers: Endgame” in the Best Picture category—typical Oscars. With a couple of exceptions like “Parasite” and “Hair Love” getting nods, the Oscars fell into its usual tropes.

Cynthia Erivo is the only actor of color acknowledged for her leading work in “Harriet,” a slave biopic about abolitionist Harriet Tubman. “Parasite” received six nominations in non-acting categories. On the other hand, “1917” received 10 nominations, which is a standard for war epics.

Acclaimed films that were considered major contenders and focused on storytelling featuring fully realized people of color and women were basically overlooked in the acting categories, and mostly in the top eight. Just to name a few: “The Farewell,” “Queen & Slim,” “Luce,” “Waves,” “Clemency,” “Just Mercy,” “Hustlers,” “Last Black Man in San Fransisco,” “Dolemite Is My Name” and “Us” did not get any love at the Oscars.

With an #OscarsSoWhite rallying cry yet again, The Tylt asked many of you to vote on those diverse filmmakers and actors left in the dust in the major categories. And while not every overlooked performance or film could be in our 2020 Oscar snubs series, below are some of the ones that stung the most.

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The 2020 Oscar nominations are out, and moviegoers and critics are upset over this year's lack of diversity in the major categories. Best Director has no female directors, and major acting contenders of color were also snubbed. The Academy also ignored blockbusters like—”Avengers: Endgame”—in the Best Picture category and “Frozen II” in the Best Animated Film category. 2019 was clearly an incredible year for film; there’s no doubt there was great competition in the acting and filmmaking categories. But too many talented actors, filmmakers and motion pictures were notably omitted and left in the dust. While The Tylt’s series can’t cover all the notable snubbed work, above are our picks for the most shocking snubs in the top categories.

Biggest 2020 Oscar Snubs Winners:

  • Biggest Best Picture snub: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ (70%)
  • Biggest Best Animated Feature Film snub: ‘Frozen II’ (62%)
  • Biggest Best Director snub: Greta Grewig (64%)
  • Biggest Best Original Song snub: ‘Spirit’ (68%)
  • Biggest Best Actress snub: Lupita Nyong'o (67%)
  • Biggest Best Actor snub: Taron Egerton (51%)
  • Biggest Best Supporting Actress snub: Jennifer Lopez (73%)
  • Biggest Best Supporting Actor snub: Jamie Foxx (71.5%)
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Critics all around the U.S were upset over these Oscar snubs. Many of the voters in The Tylt’s series hailed from the East Coast. Women held 58.5 percent of the vote, while 41.5 of voters were men.

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Clayton Davis is the editor-in-chief/owner of AwardsCircuit.com, a film criticism and awards-prediction website. While his site covers all the major award shows—the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tonys—he’s a critical fan of the Oscars, too.

“It’s a double problem: We can get upset with them a lot of the time,” Davis said, “but a lot of the time we cannot.”

Sometimes, the options are limited. In January 2016, Idris Elba was a major favorite for “Beasts of No Nation,” and Davis proclaimed he was the biggest contender of color who didn’t make the cut. To Davis, the Academy really did not have much to work with that year while also acknowledging that “Straight Outta Compton” should have been a lead contender, too.

“I don’t ever want to get into a position where it looks like tokenism,” he said. “I want them to have a nice multitude of options.”

For 2020, there were many diverse options to choose from. Davis pointed out this is common in Oscar history to have a diverse year before going back to its old ways. For example, in 2007 Forrest Whitaker won Best Actor for “The Last King of Scotland” and Jennifer Hudson took home Best Supporting Actress for “Dreamgirls.” Other acting nominees included Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barraza and Djimon Hounsou in a variety of performances and films. According to Davis, at the time, the 79th Academy Awards was considered the most diverse one yet. But the following year, the Oscars reversed its progress.

Since 2005, when Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman won for their performances in “Ray” and “Million Dollar Baby” respectively, the Oscars have swung back and forth on inclusion.

“It constantly feels like one trip forward, two steps back,” Davis said. “But again, that’s Hollywood being complacent sometimes. They say, ‘Okay, we did really good this year, so let's get our generic white dudes out there making their normal stuff that we love them to make, and then we will catch back up with the next group the next time the public gets mad at us.’”

But while the Oscars are consistently disappointing to many, Davis continues to write about a variety of potential Oscar contenders and urges Oscar voters to actually take the time to see a diversity of films before the nominations come out.

“I’m constantly reminding the world, and I talk to Oscar voters all the time, just letting them know, ‘Hey make time for this. It’s worth your time. It’s worth your while,’” he said.

While Davis doesn’t agree with the Oscars too often, AwardsCircuit.com has an estimated million readers on its site and hosts its own community awards show.

“My entire platform on Awards Circuit is to bring awareness to the under-seen and underrepresented films and artists that are out there,” Davis said. “Every day we are championing something people should watch.”

Like Davis, Senior Fandom Editor Deron Dalton is both an Oscar buff and critical fan of the awards. Marie Koury tests Deron’s knowledge of Oscar history in the latest episode of “Stump Deron.”
For more on Clayton and Deron’s Oscar knowledge and conversation about the lack of diversity, check out Fiercely Fandom with Deron. below—a fun podcast about pop culture through the lens of fandoms and stan culture. Deron is a fanboy and his expert guests are fan people! Join in on listening to some fan talk and let us know exactly where you stan.

While Reign and Davis both continue to advocate for diversity among Oscar nominees, one inescapable frustration remains: Oscar voters often select movies they haven’t seen or vote for an actor or movie because they are “supposed to,” as Davis explains.

The Hollywood Reporter reaches out to anonymous Oscar voters annually, confirming some vote for films, filmmakers or actors because they feel pressure to conform to the norm.

Joaquin Phoenix recently called out the lack of diversity in the nominations at the 2020 BAFTAs. Reign knows it’s going to take more than allies to make a difference.

“I also think it’s incumbent upon the people with privilege to speak out more often. We need more Joaquin Phoenixes and then again, what’s next?” Reign asked. “It cannot be upon the people who are marginalized to change the system, which has been systemically keeping them on the outside for nearly 100 years.”

While this is a weak year for diversity at the Oscars, Reign does recognize the breakthroughs: Matthew Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver were nominated for “Hair Love” in the Best Animated Short Film category; “St. Louis Superman” received a nod in the Best Documentary Short category; and “Parasite” scored big on all fronts, including a Best Picture nomination.

“My favorite film of the year is ‘1917.’ So obviously if it wins, I'm happy,” Davis said. “But I don’t necessarily want it to win. I want my number three film of the year to win, which is ‘Parasite.’ I feel like it’s more of an achievement. It would make history as the first foreign-language film ever to win Best Picture. I think the win and its place in history would just mean so much more.”

Reign attended the Oscars once at the 91st Academy Awards in 2019. She witnessed Spike Lee finally win an Oscar for “Blackkklansman” in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. But she also saw “Green Book” win Best Picture, a movie many called out for serving the white gaze and making white people feel good about themselves.

This year, the Academy’s attempt at diversity was a flop. Even the Oscar nomination’s hosts on TV—the beautiful duo of Issa Rae and John Cho—seemed to sit in front of those theater seats as ironic symbols. Presenters so diverse, Oscars so not.

Reign, for one, won’t be watching the Academy Awards. Instead, she’s planning to spearhead alternative programming, while proclaiming she has a job repping #OscarsSoWhite for another year.

“The goal is for me to be able to talk my way out of the job role,” Reign explained while laughing. “The goal is that we no longer have to have these conversations because things are normalized.”