A little over two years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for the 88th Academy Awards. The nominees included films like The Big Short, Brooklyn, and The Martian, and, most notably, 20 acting nominees that were all white. It was the second time in two years that all actors nominated were Caucasian.
For many people of color, the 88th Academy Awards were the final straw. Many individuals took to Twitter to voice their concerns, including April Reign – a writer, editor and lawyer living in Washington DC, who revitalized a hashtag she had created after the 87th Academy Award nominees were announced:
Her hashtag pushed a viral campaign that would become a point of conversation around the world. It was a simple summary of an issue that affected millions of individuals of color who were working to break through in the industry. Filmmakers and actors like Spike Lee, Will Smith, and Michael Moore joined the movement demanding change.
A week after the nominations, the governing board of the Academy unanimously voted to double the female and minority members by 2020. In 2012, Oscar voters were 94% Caucasian and 77% male. Reign’s campaign fundamentally changed the makeup of the voting team, which today is 28% female and 13% people of color.
In many ways, Reign’s campaign also heralded in the new era of filmmaking we are in today. In the past few years, we have seen transformative films led by people of color become critically acclaimed hits. A few years ago, it might have felt impossible for films like Get Out or Moonlight to receive critical acclaim. It makes sense that a couple of years after #OscarsSoWhite, both those films, which were led, directed and written by black men, would go on to win Oscars.
Today, people of color are actively using the power of social media platforms like Twitter to rally their communities to get out and support films made by black and brown filmmakers.
The #BlackPantherChallenge encouraged individuals to donate money or buy out entire theaters so that underprivileged communities could see the film Black Panther free of charge.
When Coco was released, Mexican and Mexican-American communities rallied around the film, and Los Angeles even declared February 27th Coco day.
Crazy Rich Asians supporters started #GoldOpen on opening weekend to get theaters packed or sold out.
These campaigns don’t just serve to energize communities that are thrilled to see representation of themselves on film — they boost the films to become massive box office hits across the world. Black Panther topped $1 billion worldwide. Coco single handedly out-grossed all 12 prior Pixar releases in China combined, and it became the highest grossing film in Mexico’s history. Crazy Rich Asians became one of the top ten highest grossing romantic comedies of all time.
Of course, more than the money or box office success, all of these films have fundamentally changed not just the films we see on the big screen, but how communities of color perceive themselves. It serves to humanize people of color, place them in diverse stories where they are the heroes, and gives an incredible source of inspiration for aspiring filmmakers and every day people alike. Films like Black Panther, Coco and Crazy Rich Asians have the power of empowering entire generations of people simply by telling diverse stories.
For many people of color, the fight is just beginning. As Reign noted in an interview for CNN, “The fact that we are still talking about firsts in 2018 means there’s a lot more that needs to be done.”
Just a couple weeks ago, Sandra Oh became the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy. And although the 70th Annual prime time Emmy’s boasted “the most diverse nominee pool in history,” only three of the 26 awards went to a person of color.
The road ahead might be difficult, but it’s the activism of individuals that is making a difference — and changing the landscape of the film and television industry forever.