Slow motion: Diversity at the Oscars still a work in progress

On first glance, the 2018 Oscar contenders seem to reflect a changing tide in Hollywood. But for many, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still has a long way to go toward true diversity.

Surprising, historic nominees face 'a sea of the same in Hollywood'

Jordan Peele wrote, directed and produced the horror-satire Get Out, one of the surprising Oscar nominees announced Tuesday. (Justin Lubin/Universal Pictures via Associated Press)

At first glance, the 2018 Oscar contenders seem to reflect a changing tide in Hollywood. But for many, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences still has a long way to go toward true diversity.

"This is a year where we've seen a lot of the wealth spread across many deserving films," according to Jen Yamato, film reporter for the Los Angeles Times. 

"Post #OscarsSoWhite, the academy really aggressively tried to make its membership more inclusive and to bring in more young people, and I think we are seeing the result of that. We're seeing a wider range of movies being recognized."

And if the eventual winners' circle includes notable contenders like Jordan Peele's sharp racial satire/horror debut Get Out, Greta Gerwig's nuanced mother-daughter tale Lady Bird or Mudbound cinematographer Rachel Morrison (the first female cinematographer ever nominated for the Oscars), "it would tell us that the industry isn't closed off to recognizing diverse voices, new voices and different voices," Yamato noted.

Greta Gerwig is only the fifth woman ever to be nominated for a directing Oscar. (Merie Wallace/A24)

That said, there's still a long way to go, she pointed out. 

"We should not lose sight of the fact that Hollywood has so much work to do, particularly with women, particularly with minority representation. … A lot of other people are still largely left out of the conversation, left out of storytelling and left out of awards season."

Vancouver actress and writer Carmen Aguirre, for instance, decries the entertainment industry's general lack of Latinx representation. 

"I see zero or next to zero Latinx representation on the screen — and when it's there, it's either a woman holding a broom or a man holding a gun, engaging in criminal behaviour," she told CBC News from Vancouver.

The Chilean film A Fantastic Woman, starring trans actress Daniela Vega, is a rare instance of Latinx representation among the Oscar nominees. (TIFF)

Though encouraged by the kudos for Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, whose The Shape of Water leads the Oscar race, and the foreign-language film nomination for Chilean transgender drama A Fantastic Woman, she sees a need to be more vocal about representation — in Hollywood as well as at home in Canada. 

"We the Latino people have not been as outspoken as our African-American brothers and sisters. … We should take the example from them and get as outspoken as they have. Maybe that would help change things."

Who are the storytellers?

"In some ways, looking at the list of nominations, you can see the progress: Lady Bird, amazing. Call Me By Your Name, amazing. Get Out, amazing. But those are set up against … a sea of the same in Hollywood," said Rachel Giese, a writer, cultural commentator and editor-at-large for Chatelaine magazine. 

"Why is this list still not as diverse as it could be?"

Point of view, whose stories get told and who is brought in to help tell these stories — these all matter and are rightfully being questioned coming out of the #MeToo movement, Time's Up and #OscarsSoWhite, Giese said.

"It's about the storytelling as well as the power structures, and the two are always interconnected."

A changing industry?

Tuesday's nominations "show progress not just for the academy but for the industry," said Yamato, who hopes that this year's wide field of Oscar contenders will spark more open conversations.

"Maybe the fact that these nominations are diverse will lead to voters thinking a little bit more deeply about recognizing diverse stories."

Still, while awards shows might take the spotlight, Giese is not expecting the Oscars to create real change to Hollywood's structures and systems. 

Rachel Giese sees real change from the efforts of filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, who tells diverse stories and hires people of colour for onscreen roles as well as behind the camera. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

Instead, she feels change will come from inclusive initiatives that create opportunities for new voices, from powerful women like Ava DuVernay, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah "using their prominence and power to actually generate more inclusive projects" to the way TV networks and streaming services are supporting diverse creators telling engaging stories, like Donald Glover and Issa Rae.

"Obviously awards matter, but I think box office in many ways matters more," she added, pointing to crowd-pleasing box-office behemoths like the genuinely frightening Get Out, the irreverent Girls Trip and Thor: Ragnerok, which director Taika Waititi filled with Maori references, as more likely to truly move the dial on diversity in Hollywood.  

"Get Out can be political and powerful. At the same time it can also be enormously entertaining," Giese said.

"The two aren't in opposition. They can be the same thing."

About the Author

Jessica Wong

Senior online arts writer

Jessica Wong is the longtime online arts and entertainment writer for CBC News.

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