My wife Shannon and I watched the Oscars Sunday night, as did about 23 million people across the world. She and I are movie buffs, and like many, we enjoy the anticipation of seeing which films will leave with the golden statues.
As entertaining as this always is, it’s no secret that the Academy Awards has historically not been the most diverse display of talent. In fact, you’ll likely recall that just a few years ago, the absence of diversity was so glaring it prompted the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in response to the homogenous slate of nominees.
The Academy took note and overhauled its voting membership to be more inclusive across race, gender, age and geography. With almost 800 new members, the voting body was suddenly about 40 percent female and 30 percent non-white.
After nearly 90 years, it seemed the Academy was finally on track to get it right. And last year seemed to bear the fruit. In 2019, the Oscar nominees were the most diverse in Academy history, with people of color winning Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Costume Design and several other categories, about 10 in all.
Then as we watched on Sunday, I was daunted by how quickly the Oscars had again become so dissimilar to the rich and diverse tapestry that is America. There was one nominee of color among the four acting categories: Best Actress nominee Cynthia Erivo, who was nominated for her performance in Harriet. And although Erivo did not win, she left her mark on all – and certainly on me – with her soul-stirring performance of Stand Up.
The big award of the night – Best Picture – went to Parasite, the first non-English film to win the coveted best film award and the first to win both the Best Picture and Best International Film Oscars. This is a remarkable nod to the fact that we can appreciate each other’s story, even if it’s not our own.
Why is this important? Why does it matter who the members of the Academy nominate and who ultimately gets the award? Watching this show reminds me of how long it takes to create change, and how quickly that change reverts if we are not intentional. It was so fitting that singer Janelle Monae wrapped up her performance by reminding the audience that it is Black History Month and challenged them to “come alive.”
If we view change as a few checked boxes that we superficially revisit when unrest peaks, our progress is short lived. Change is a daily practice and a series of intentional, progressive actions. In this case, the Academy’s membership overhaul was a good step in the right direction to ensure representation. And I don’t profess to know the movie business, but before that can really matter, opportunities for diverse talents, stories and images that reflect everyone must exist.
There is work to be done. And the Academy should be one of the easiest places to start. Our stories are powerful – they transcend our differences and bind us indelibly. If the main industry that thrives on telling the stories that bring people together still struggles to ensure everyone’s story is heard and appreciated, there’s work to be done. We’ve got to come alive, and we must be intentional about coming together in every action we take, every single day.