Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lanre Bakare

Nine years after #OscarsSoWhite, has Hollywood got the message on diversity?

No whiteout this year … Robert Downey Jr (best supporting actor), Da'Vine Joy Randolph (best supporting actress), Emma Stone (best actress) and  Cillian Murphy (best actor).
No whiteout this year … Robert Downey Jr (best supporting actor), Da'Vine Joy Randolph (best supporting actress), Emma Stone (best actress) and Cillian Murphy (best actor). Photograph: Allison Dinner/EPA

This year’s Oscars will go down as the one where the Academy found its groove again. A big blockbuster with critical plaudits and huge box office won the day, but there was enough frivolity, nudity and politics to create the something-for-everyone evening producers were so keen to manufacture.

Nine years on from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, in which all of the acting nominations went to white performers, one thing was missing from the Barbie-dominated build up and the Oppenheimer aftermath: talk of diversity.

Perhaps that’s because on the face of it, the Oscars have improved starkly from that nadir of back-to-back whiteouts in 2015 and 2016. There were diverse actors up for nominations, seven in total (the same number as last year): Lily Gladstone, Danielle Brooks, America Ferrera, Colman Domingo, Sterling K Brown and Jeffrey Wright, with Da’Vine Joy Randolph winning best supporting actress for her turn in The Holdovers.

A female director was again in the running (Justine Triet), while new, exciting writers were being recognised (Cord Jefferson) – all during a year when the Academy’s own diversity standards were introduced and seemed to be working.

Now, in order to be eligible for nominations, productions need to meet a list of requirements from diversity in casting through to their off-screen leadership, crews and marketing department.

Some have called them “flimsy and showy” in the same way that Bafta’s similar rules were criticised as little more than window dressing in an industry with huge systemic problems when it comes to inclusion.

The Oscar requirements are admittedly very easy to meet and lead to films that don’t look diverse being eligible. For example, Oppenheimer qualified because of the large amount of women working in senior positions on the production, which outweighs the obvious lack of black and brown faces on screen.

Jeanell English, who worked at the Academy on its impact and inclusion efforts, told the New York Times that if stricter rules had been enforced, “You would have lost a lot of support and momentum” from within the industry.

That comment seems to confirm what many black, Latino and east Asian voices have been saying for years: Hollywood is interested in diversity, but only up to a point. The looseness of the new Oscar rules has led many to question whether or not gradualism is the right approach.

Spike Lee, a director who has been asked about diversity and the Oscars more than anyone, said the focus should be on “the rarefied air of the gatekeepers” rather than the new standards which he said contain “loopholes”. He added: “These are the people, individuals who decide what we’re making and what we’re not making, who’s going to write it, who’s going to direct it, who’s going to produce it, who’s a star in this.”

Looking at the outcome of this year’s awards, his argument holds water. American Fiction, a film that had a mostly black cast and was up for five awards, winning one for best adapted screenplay, was financed by Orion – a studio with a black female boss (Alana Mayo) who backed it when many others had already passed.

Wright – a man many consider to be one of the finest character actors of his generation – was finally up for best actor. “It’s actually been the first time that I’ve had this level of support for a film that I’ve been so central to,” he told the Guardian, another reminder that studios have happily ignored diverse talent for decades and why change was needed.

When the film’s director Jefferson collected his Oscar, he implored those in the audience who had the power – the gatekeepers Lee mentioned – to take more chances. While joking about the amount of people who had passed on his film, he said he wasn’t being “vindictive” but instead was issuing “a plea to acknowledge that there are so many people out there who want the opportunity I was given”.

Jefferson’s comments point to the other major influence over how diverse the Oscars are: the film industry itself.

Recent research has shown diversity in many areas is actually going backwards. Nowhere is that decline steeper than in the number of female leads in major motion pictures which is at a 10-year low, while there has also been a decline in the number of films led by both white and diverse female directors.

Elsewhere, a series of high-profile exits by women of colour from senior positions in Hollywood has been called a “troubling pattern”, while another report predicted that the UK film industry “may achieve gender parity in 2085”.

Hollywood’s biggest night might have gone to plan this year, but almost a decade on from Hollywood’s diversity reckoning there are still systemic barriers in the industry that the Oscars inclusion rules don’t and can’t really address.

Read more about the 2024 Oscars:
Here’s our news wrap and full list of winners – now read Peter Bradshaw’s verdict
• Al Pacino, British mothers and a codpiece envelope: the real winners and losers of the night
• Relive how the ceremony unfolded with our liveblog and get up to speed with the top viral moments and the best quotes of the night
• Have a gander at how the stars looked on the red carpet and at the show

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.