The Current

Why #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign isn't surprised by the lack of diverse nominees

April Reign, an activist and the creator of #OscarsSoWhite, spoke to The Current about why she feels the lack of diverse films and performers nominated for Academy Awards just doesn't cut it in 2020.

April Reign says the past four years have seen big change at the Academy, but still a long road ahead

Many Oscar-watchers expected Jennifer Lopez to get a Best Supporting Actress nomination, but no dice. (STXfilms/Elevation Pictures)

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The lack of diverse Oscar nominations shows that the people who make up the Academy are still "overwhelmingly white and male," according to April Reign, an activist and the creator of #OscarsSoWhite.

It's been four years since the hashtag started a huge cultural conversation about the lack of diversity in the movies and performers nominated for Academy Awards.

"Despite the Academy's commitment to doubling the number of people of colour and doubling the number of women within its membership ranks by this year, 2020, the Academy is still 84 per cent white and 68 per cent male," Reign said.

Film fans were aghast to see that many acclaimed movies featuring actors of colour, or directed by women and people of colour, were again snubbed by the Academy in its Monday announcement. 

All the best director nominees are men, and out of 20 lead and supporting actor nominees, only one is a person of colour (Cynthia Ervio for Harriet.)

Reign, a former lawyer and diversity advocate, spoke to The Current's host Matt Galloway about why she's not surprised.

April Reign said that while all the nominated films are excellent, so are many others with diverse casts or directors that didn't get Oscar nods. (Warwick Saint)

Were you as puzzled by the Oscar nominations as so many people were when they came out [Monday] morning?

No, unfortunately, I wasn't surprised.

Despite the Academy's commitment to doubling the number of people of colour and doubling the number of women within its membership ranks by this year, 2020, the Academy is still 84 per cent white and 68 per cent male. 

So people … watch the films that they think reflect a facet of their experience. And that's not racism or bigotry or anything else, but that's just what people are interested in. 

And if the Academy voting membership is overwhelmingly white and male, then I think the nominations are going to reflect that.

There was an argument made in the past that, "There weren't enough great films made by women or starring people of colour, and that's why those nominations weren't there. The product wasn't there, wasn't good enough, and I'm sorry, we're only celebrating the best and the brightest." 

Is that still the case — or was it ever the case?

That was never the case. And it's incredibly specious this year because there was an overwhelming amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera by marginalized communities.

Many fans had hoped to see Lupita Nyong'o nominated for her role in Jordan Peele's latest film, Us. (Claudette Barius/Universal Studios)

There are people who are saying that Jennifer Lopez deserved a nomination for her role in the film Hustlers, that ... Us, Lupita Nyong'o was sensational in that film, that Awkwafina in the film The Farewell deserved a nomination.

Are those names that … you had hoped would be on the list of nominees?

Absolutely. Those women all turned in fantastic performances. But it's not just about actors and actresses.

In the over 90-year history of the Academy, only five women have been nominated for best director and only one has won. 

We had Lulu Wang for The Farewell, Kasi Lemons for Harriet, Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers and other women who turned in amazing work and unfortunately were not recognized.

What about a film like Parasite? This is a South Korean film nominated for six Oscars, including best picture. People love this movie. Isn't that worth acknowledging?

It absolutely is worth acknowledging and I'll be rooting for Parasite in February because it was a fantastic film, but I think you point out the issue here. 

If we can name on one hand — or on one finger — the films and performances that represent different facets of the community … then that's where the issue lies.

Bong Joon Ho's film Parasite has received a number of nominations, including for best director. (TIFF)

People have made the same argument for Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Little Women. Again, a much celebrated film nominated for best picture. And people have said, well, maybe that's a step forward for women in terms of films that might be about women.

It absolutely is a step forward. But the issue is we should not still be talking about firsts in 2020. We should have surmounted all of that by now. 

And ... we need to think about what the audience looks like. 

Those people who have paid their hard-earned dollars to sit in a darkened theatre or stream on a streaming service, they should be reflected on the big screen.

Little Women has six nominations. (Sony Pictures)

Why does this matter? I mean, people might write the Oscars off as a frivolous awards show. 

It matters to those people who have created amazing work all year long, and they deserve to be recognized and acknowledged. 

What we also know is that in some cases — definitely not all — the Oscars lead the way for people to have more opportunities on the other side.

And we can talk about whether the Oscars and all award shows should matter, but especially with respect to the Oscars, because I'm not sure your listeners know: the Oscar membership is not required to view the performances before they vote.

So they can just vote without having seen these films?

Right. And so I have always said, with respect to #OscarsSoWhite, that it should be a meritocracy, right? 

But if you're not watching the film, then doesn't it become a popularity contest?

Despite two Golden Globes wins for The Farewell, including a best actress in a musical or comedy win for Awkwafina, the film was completely shut out of the Oscars. (Casi Moss/A24/The Associated Press)

You put this tweet out in 2015, #OscarsSoWhite, and the hashtag which turned into a much larger thing than just that tweet.

Do you feel that it made any difference?

Oh, it absolutely did. The Academy committed to doubling the number of people of colour and doubling the number of women within its ranks. 

Since then, what we also know is that there are people now that are members of the Academy who were not before — people like Julie Dash and Melvin Van Peebles — who created seminal works but had not been invited to the Academy.

And most importantly, I believe that the audience members are becoming more savvy and no longer rewarding mediocrity when they go to the theatre. 

Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Julie Crysler. Interview has been edited for length and clarity.