“Overwhelmingly white and male.” What am I talking about, you may ask? Penn? Yes, but actually, I am talking about the 7,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and thus, the people who determined who won an Oscar in 2020.
The collective surprise that "Parasite," the 2019 South Korean drama/mystery, directed by Bong Joon-ho, won the Academy Award for Best Picture on Feb. 9, highlights how little we as an audience expect from the Academy.
And though "Parasite" made history by being the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture, not a single actor or actress who helped make the film an award-winner was nominated for their performance in it. While this win deserves immense recognition and praise, we must also ensure that a well-deserved victory does not erase all of the women and people of color who have been historically overlooked.
The humorous moments of reprieve during the show, such as Steve Martin and Chris Rock bantering about all the ways the Oscars have changed since their beginning in 1929 (there used to be no Black nominees, and now there is one) are only funny because they cut to the heart of what makes viewers uncomfortable as they watch yet another white-washed program.
We laugh with these stars who admit how white the awards show is because we feel it too. Martin said, “I don’t know, Chris, I thought there was something missing from the list this year.” Rock was quick to sling back, “vaginas!” This awareness does nothing to combat the fact that in its 90-plus year history, only 39 Oscars have been given to Black actors and actresses. Shouting “vaginas!” does nothing to recognize that Taika Waititi made history as the first indigenous director to win an Oscar, even if not for Best Director.
Instead of empty platitudes, perhaps the Academy should work on not overlooking women and people of color in their nominations, instead of allowing space for so many jokes about the obvious discrepancies of the ballot. While I love a good cape, the embroidered names of snubbed female directors on Natalie Portman’s body are not going to do anything but make a brief point.
Janelle Monáe made the bold statement, “Tonight, we celebrate all the amazing talent in this room. We celebrate all the women who directed phenomenal films and I'm so proud to stand here as a Black, queer artist, telling stories. Happy Black History Month." These statements ease the discomfort of invisibility; they are an admission that at least some people in the world of Hollywood see those who have been underrepresented for years.
However, if we want to fix the problem that is underrepresentation, we need institutional change. The viral moments that spread on Twitter, snatching public attention because of their meme-ability, will do nothing to aid the recognition for current and future women and people of color.
This means that the Academy, and Hollywood itself, is responsible for dismantling a system that continues to privilege certain groups of people. It means not just recognizing the talent from women and people of color at awards shows, but also making more space for different people to tell different stories.
Inclusivity starts when films are green-lighted and funded, not just awarded. Humorous and performative moments of solidarity will continue to fall flat until real and obvious change is secured for the groups of people who deserve recognition.
SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is email@example.com.
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