The Academy Awards Just Barely Moved The Needle On Hollywood Diversity

Nate_Parker_The_Birth_Of_A_NationThis week it was announced that the Academy (you know, those folks that hand out the Oscars) extended a record number of invitations for new members, the overwhelming majority of them going to women and minorities. And yet, I am unimpressed.

This was all a reaction to folk being fed up with white men dominating the voting body, and as a result, dictating what we are supposed to believe are the best achievements in film every year. The rallying cry for many, a cry that President Isaacs heard loud and clear, was that the deciding body of annual winners needed to be more representative of the world around us.

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But since when has Hollywood ever been representative of reality?

What we got as a band-aid was invitations to industry darlings like Idris Elba, Michael B. Jordan, and Nate Parker. We got hundreds of them. Out of the 683 invitations, 46% went to women  and 41% went to people of color. So now you can rest easy that White people will now only account for 89% of the body instead of the previous 92% and men will only account for 73% instead of the previous 75%.

If you’re like me, this seemingly nonexistent shift in representation is setting off all types of red flags in your head. How will the addition of that many new members have such a small effect on the overall makeup of Oscars voters? Well, the stark truth just behind these numbers is that in an organization with over 6,000 members, there are already a shit-ton of white people.

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See, since the dawn of the film industry, white people have always been over-represented. Even when they thought it appropriate to have minority characters in films, they just applied enough makeup, tape, and/or vocal affectation for a white person to do the job. And to gain entrance into The Academy, you have to participate in the art of filmmaking on a recognizable level. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. So, in all those years where movies were only for White people, both in front of and behind the camera, they were also solidifying a long-term stranglehold on being the formal arbiters of artistic merit. Now that we’re finally able to see the error in all that, it will take decades to truly right the imbalance. Whiteness can be funny like that sometimes.

So celebrate. Kerry Washington will now get to vote on who wins Best Supporting Actress. And John Boyega will have the smallest of says in who wins Best Picture. But don’t be fooled into thinking that over a century of white discriminatory behavior can be undone with one stroke. Just like all other consequences of institutional racism, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us if we’re ever going to make things right.

If you’d like to read the full list of those invited to join The Academy, (including folks like Anthony Anderson, Ryan Coogler, Ice Cube, and Mary J. Blige) click here.


Photo credit: The Birth of a Nation Facebook

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Daren W. Jackson

Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.