The 94th annual Academy Awards will happen next month, and in the 94 years it has run, only 20 Black actors have won an acting Oscar.
It’s a shocking statistic, especially since Hattie McDaniel, the first Black actress to win an Oscar, did so all the way back in 1939.
You’d think that since McDaniel opened the floodgates, nominations and wins would be happening at a faster rate, but that sadly was not the case. And that never became the case.
Black actors were not considered for roles in movies that would become Oscar-nominated, and Black directors and writers weren’t given the funding to create their own movies, like they are today.
The next Black actor to win an Oscar was the recently deceased Sidney Poitier, who won for “Lillies of the Field” in 1963. That’s 24 years without a win. It would take another 19 years for the next Black actor, Louis Gossett Jr., to win an Oscar.
To really put it in perspective, Whoopi Goldberg, who is very much alive, well and still working today, was just the fifth Black person (and second Black woman) to win an Oscar.
Obviously, things are way better now than they were for the majority of the Academy Awards’ existence, but there have still been diversity issues in the Academy in modern times. In 2015, the Academy gave all 20 acting nominations to white people, and the same thing happened the year after, in 2016. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was created, and reckoning began in the Academy.
Having all the acting nominations go to white actors is something that has probably happened dozens of time throughout the Oscars’ history, but the fact that this was happening in 2015 and 2016 was disappointing, to say the least.
Soon after, the Academy began to diversify who gets to end up voting for Oscar nominations and winners. They announced they would make “radical changes to its voting requirements, recruiting process and governing structure, with an aim toward increasing the diversity of its membership.”
They said their goal was to double the number of female and minority members by 2020.
As of 2020, white and male voters still made up a majority of the 9,000 people who are members of the Academy.
Things weren’t great either at the 2020 Oscars, when only one person of color, Cynthia Erivo, was nominated for an acting award, and no women were nominated for Best Director, despite having three women behind critically acclaimed films, ready to take a deserved nomination.
The 2021 Oscars saw a little bit of a step forward when two women were nominated for Best Director, and the winner of the award, Chloe Zhao, became the first women of color to win it. The only other winner of the award was Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker.”
At this year’s Oscars, Jane Campion is nominated for Best Director, becoming the first female director to ever have been nominated twice, and it looks like she could be the one to take the award home.
And of the 20 acting awards, six of the nominees are people of color. It’s nowhere near the diversity that is expected (or what the Academy is pushing for), but it’s certainly better than in years past.
So, where does the Academy go from here?
It’s great that they are being more inclusive and adding more people of color to their voting body, but that still doesn’t mean that actors of color are going to get the same opportunities that white actors get. It’s going to take action from movie studios to make films from minority writers and directors.
Look at what happens when a movie like “Moonlight” is made by a studio and gets award buzz. The film, which has an all-Black cast, was given eight Oscar nominations and won three, including Best Picture. It was an example of how a diverse movie can help diversify the Oscars with the help from a studio 100% backing it.
It not only costs money to make an Oscar-worthy movie, it takes a lot of money to campaign for an Oscar-nominated movie, and when given the chance, minority-led projects can bring home awards and money.
Just look at blockbuster hits like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians.” They may not be Oscar-bait movies, (although “Black Panther” did get a Best Picture nomination), but they were minority-led films that did well at the box office.
It’s just going to take more speaking up from famous actors and celebrities to make any sort of change. Many actors have used their acceptance speeches as rallying cries for better treatment for women in Hollywood, more diversity and inclusion and safer work environments.
The Oscars will forever be far from perfect, but the more positive steps that can be made to bring change, the more opportunities will be open for everyone, regardless of what you look like.