As I sit here at 6am in the UK, a film fan who revels in the yearly tradition of the Academy Awards and witnessing the blunder surrounding Best Picture that will no doubt be on everyone’s lips right now. However after all the pomp and ceremony that we so revel in, it’s somewhat important to look at something that has also dominated the news surrounding the Oscars ever since last year and this is representation.
No doubt the #OscarsSoWhite storm that occurred last awards season will have played heavily on their mind and ensuring that a wider spectrum of people, religions and cultures would be represented this time around. So the question the looms over all is, were the Oscars more diverse this year than in previous ones? In my own personal opinion I would have to say, Yes.
The nominations this year did seem to have a much more varied selection of people than there has been in the past number of them but this is not just a case of filling a quota to make the academy look as though they are finally being dragged into the 21st century. It has to be said that the nominees in each Oscars category deserved to be there and had just as much chance of winning as any other, bar a few categories where certain winners were considered a lock.
Mahershala Ali is the standout inclusion in the group of winners this year, becoming the first Muslim to win an acting Academy Award in its entire history. This is a little strange to comprehend considering how many people in the world practice the Muslim faith but until now, there has not been a winner. Viola Davis deservedly won her first Oscar as well after a long and varied carrier and there are few, if any, who can disagree with her victory.
I am not condemning the Academy and it’s voting board for their choices by any margin. Personally La La Land has been an absolute highlight for myself and what I wouldn’t give to see Kubo and The Two Strings take home that golden statue for Best Animated Feature. But it’s been wonderfully refreshing to see such a more varied palette of films to take in and see different people and locales that I normally might not have been able to.
Moonlight winning Best Picture is a seismic shift in the typically ‘safe’ vote that this Oscar can tend to go to and it is honestly wonderful to see a film representing LGBT issues get the spotlight it so thoroughly deserves. For all senses it should not have taken the academy this long to showcase a story about someone in the LGBT community, after Brokeback Mountain was snubbed to the genuine shock of the ceremony at the time, as well as the film industry as a whole. This is not just about highlighting stories about the gay community but it is historic as this is a tale in an urban environment where traditionally it is showcased as a particular type of life and never really observes it as anything other than surface. We see these people who are traditionally shown as one-dimensional, now be fleshed out and relatable to an extent, we learn about the person and we feel for them.
This does not mean that the academy should now be patted on the back and told they’ve done a good job and then fall back into habits. Change needs to continue and the world will always progress and so should they. There must be more of a spotlight on female directors who are so often ignored except for on the rare occasion that the board takes notice (there has only ever been 5 nominees and 1 winner in this category). Documentaries deserve to be showcased amongst the best of the year when they are just as gripping and intriguing as their fictional counterparts. There will always be new stories about people and places that are not normally as fully explored and need to be seen by the world. Representation is hugely important and must not be allowed to slip back into the way things were, you’ve made a good start so please keep it going Oscars.