Why you should care
Because Hollywood can do better.
Gil Robertson is president of the African American Film Critics Association.
#OscarsSoWhite is in the past: Hollywood has opened its arms to diversity, forging equal roles for Blacks, Hispanics and whites alike. Sounds like a blockbuster movie theme, right? Well, the truth of it depends on whether this year’s nominations — admittedly a far cry better than recent years — were a promising preview of great opportunities to come or simply a blip on the road to same old same old.
That’s why I have mixed feelings about today’s Academy Awards nods. It was a big day in Hollywood and a glorious one for the many Black artists whose work received their industry’s highest compliment: being nominated for an Oscar. And don’t get me wrong — my colleagues and friends who were nominated are rightly thrilled. After two years of controversy, the voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences finally got it right.
African-American actors and creatives collectively earned a total of 18 nominations across various categories. History was made as a record total of four Black women actors were nominated, including three who are competing for Best Supporting Actress. Cinematographer Bradford Young and film editor Joi McMillon scored firsts with nominations in their respective categories, and the biggest news of all? That three Black-themed movies — Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight — are up for Best Picture honors.
The trouble is that my initial euphoria has slipped away since this morning as I began questioning the realness behind today’s impressive accolades. Do they signal that Hollywood has at long last arrived at the beginning of a new era in which diverse, high-quality Black films will become the norm? Or was the past year of glorious productions that captured a multitude of themes and expressions about Black life simply a fluke? There’s little evidence that the film industry is making a genuine commitment toward diversity and inclusion. After all, where are the nominations for female directors; where are the roles for people who represent other diverse communities? My mind can’t help but be consumed by these truths.
As president of the African American Film Critics Association, I have seen the controversy of the past two years from the front seat. From the threat of boycotts to social-media campaigns, I’ve spent countless hours in meaningful discussions and lively debates about the issue of diversity and inclusion in cinema. And while yesterday’s announcements should seemingly signal an end to such dialog, I must admit that I haven’t really seen too much change in terms of how business is done in this town.
Making films is hard work, and every nominee is praiseworthy, regardless of ethnicity or color. But women and minorities continue to lag so far behind in terms of opportunities that it is a big event just to see one on set, not to mention one getting a chance to make a studio-backed film. Tangible signs of positive change would include greater sensitivity to racial casting and investment in more racially sensitive marketing strategies.
I applaud the Academy and recognize the great leadership the organization has demonstrated by recruiting a more diverse membership. Their voices were heard loudly today, and welcomed. But when can we expect the studios who supply the pipeline of content to follow their lead? Today was a good first step, but Hollywood still has a long way to go before I am convinced of its commitment to real change.