Awards Season is upon us, folks – and the nominations for the 2017 Academy Awards were released this week. If you’re like me, you’ve spent a decent part of the week hours chewing through articles on this year’s snubs and surprises, you’ve saved a few think pieces to your read-for-later-queue, and you may have even begun filling out your Oscar prediction ballot. Whether or not you agree with this year’s nods, there are a couple truths I noticed within this year’s nominations.
Oscars So….Less White?
In 2016, zero actors of color were nominated for Academy Awards. Zero. This spawned the viral response #OscarsSoWhite that persisted throughout, during and past the actual award show. This year, the Oscar nominations included the most people of color in over a decade – 7 nominees were actors of color, including Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Dev Patel (“Lion”); Best Actor for Denzel Washington (“Fences”); and Best Actress for Ruth Negga (“Loving”). In addition, for the first time in history, there are three black nominees for Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (“Fences”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) and Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”). Full list of nominees here. Not only were these incredible actors featured in outstanding films, the films focused on minority stories and narratives such as Fences, an original stage play-turned-film about Troy Maxson, a former star baseball player in the Negro Leagues who lives in Pittsburgh with this family in 1957; Hidden Figures, an inspiring story about 3 gifted female black scientists who navigate racism and sexism at NASA; and Moonlight, an intense coming of age story of a young black male living in Miami.
A Ways to Go
As satisfying as it is to (finally!) see such phenomenal actors of color honored in the most significant award show in Hollywood, it’s important to remember that we have a way to go in our journey to achieve full, equal representation of all races and identities in American media. April Reign, writer, activist and cultural commentator who created #OscarsSoWhite, examined how few other ethnicities are represented in this year’s nominations. To those who felt that by honoring the 7 actors of color we have achieved equality, she wrote on Twitter: “One year of films reflecting the Black experience doesn’t make up for 80 yrs of underrepresentation of ALL groups.” April hits the nail on the head – it’s a step in the right direction, but we are far from where we need to be.
It begins with Hollywood at large; we need the compelling films that represent our country to be given budget and studio support. And before that, we need the artists, creators, actors and actresses to have access to the resources, encouragement and acknowledgment that white creators do. At Sundance Film Festival this year, The Sundance Institute and The Will and Jada Smith Family Institute announced their commitment to the 2-year program to support diverse independent filmmakers and artists. This program, The Screenwriters Intensive, provides opportunities for 10 emerging screenwriters from underrepresented communities. The program includes workshops, one-on-one meetings with creative advisers, and greater training and support of the student’s story-telling and filmmaking projects. Learn more about this program here. Initiatives like this alter the landscape of cinema and media by supporting the next generation of filmmakers who reflect the real diversity of our American public.
How Do We Get There?
Diversity in media representation is a really important issue – one we constantly grapple with here at the Ad Council as well. As we cast actors and actresses in PSAs across our 40 active campaign issues, we make sure to keep in mind our audience, an extremely diverse American public made up of every gender, ethnicity, language, religion, age, ability, socio-economic status, and the list goes on… The issues we work on affect every American; from teaching kids to stand up to bullying in schools, to helping parents identify the early signs of autism in their children – our goal is to make sure each campaign communicates effectively and directly to this diverse public. In the last few years, we have expanded our campaigns in message and tone, and we hope to lead the effort in creating true media representation with our work. The Ad Council also participates in the Free The Bid initiative, pledging to get one female director included in every production bid process for our PSAs – typically a male dominated space. It’s these small steps to include underrepresented talent in our organization that keep us moving forward. Until every American citizen can look to the media – from blockbuster films to PSAs, and see themselves represented, we have our work laid out for us.