Record year for diversity at the Oscars, thanks to the pandemic

The #OscarsSoWhite campaign launched in 2015 to denounce the overwhelming majority of white candidates seems to have borne fruit. The late Chadwick Boseman or the South Korean Yuh-Jung Youn have a good chance of winning next Sunday.

Actors of color present in force in the nominations, women and filmmakers of Asian origin vying for the award for best director: this year the Oscars are breaking diversity records, and not only thanks to the pandemic that has upset the plans of Hollywood.

One of the factors of this change has undoubtedly been the reform initiated by the Academy, which awards the most prestigious awards in American cinema, to broaden the recruitment of its members and make them more reflective of society.

“I think these Oscars will be remembered as the ones where the changes introduced six years ago, in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, have kept their promise,” said black American actor Dwayne Barnes (Threat II Society), in an editorial on the specialized site Deadline.

The late Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Blues“), Daniel Kaluuya (Judas & The Black Messiah) and South Korean Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari) all have a good chance of winning Sunday among the actors. As for Chloé Zhao, born in China, she is favorite for the Oscar for best achievement with Nomadland.

“This change (…) is not a hazard”

The #OscarsSoWhite campaign was launched in January 2015 on social networks to denounce the overwhelming majority of white candidates rewarded that year by an Academy mainly made up of elderly Anglo-Saxon men.

Under pressure, the Academy had indeed recognized in 2016 that its 6,000 members at the time were 93% white and 76% male, with a median age of 63 years. She announced in the wake of a doubling of women and members of ethnic minorities by 2020 to breathe new blood into its workforce.

The bet was taken last summer, and professionals voting for the Oscars now number around 33% women and 19% members from “under-represented minorities” (1,787 in total).

“It will have taken a few years for it to take but there is every reason to hope that this change (…) is not a hazard,” writes Dwayne Barnes, stressing that he has “gone to a long time” countless auditions while having the impression that the dice were loaded “.

“Perfect combination”

After #OscarsSoWhite followed movements demanding the recognition of women in all film professions, in front of and behind the camera, driven by the revelations of the Weinstein affair.

“All this really shook the coconut palm. And this year for the first time, because the Covid-19 pushed back the schedule of big productions, it left the field open to other films”, analyzes Sasha Stone, founder of the Awards Daily site which has been scrutinizing film awards since 1999 and refers to Hollywood. “However, it turns out that many of these films were made by filmmakers of color and women,” she told AFP.

With theaters closed and viewers reduced to streaming movies at home, “it was the perfect combination.” “There were the movies, the movie community and they could do whatever they wanted without having to worry about the box office,” said Sasha Stone.

The scale taken by video on demand during the pandemic “certainly played” because “it has been observed that diversity on television has increased much faster than in cinema”, confirms Darnell Hunt, a sociologist specializing in the representation of minorities in the media at UCLA University of Los Angeles.

The success of streaming “has helped submit to the Academy a much more diverse range of films than they are used to seeing and that has translated into the nominations,” said Darnell Hunt, who leads each year since 2014 a study on diversity in Hollywood.


For him as for Sasha Stone, the dazzling progress made by the Academy will undoubtedly not be as spectacular in the years to come but he “does not imagine that it can go back to the way before”.

“Everything is going in the right direction, the Academy continues to be more diverse and has introduced new criteria for the best feature film category” which should strengthen from 2022 the presence of ethnic minorities, women and LGBT people, to both in front of and behind the screen.

Will this be enough to change Hollywood as a whole? Sasha Stone hopes so but notes that “film prices are now really disconnected from the box office, they have become a niche”. However, according to her, the film industry seeks above all to “make money”.

“If male directors make more, they’ll continue to be hired. And if white actors make more money, they’ll continue to be hired,” she says.

Hollywood “wants to make money but also wants to have a good image and the Oscars help them with that. It’s like McDonald’s: they sell Big Macs all over the world but they have this salad that makes it look like they care about health. That’s what the Oscars are for Hollywood: salad. “

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Record year for diversity at the Oscars, thanks to the pandemic