The Oscars are always the award show event of the year, but the 2021 iteration—live on Sunday April 25—will be especially interesting since it will recognize films released during an era when most movie theaters were closed. Equally important, the 93rd Academy Awards will be watched by an audience that demands more representation not only in the nominees, but the winners. 

The Oscars and Representation

Oscars

With a good number of awards shows having taken place under the COVID blanket since March 2020, this year’s offerings have found footing in the virtual sphere. Obviously, social distancing, masks and virtual red carpets—nothing to see here. However, the greater, ongoing issue faced by the entertainment industry is assertions of inherent racial bias. This is of course, is part of a much more complicated issue at large. But it has changed the dialogue surrounding movie and music awards shows.

Criticism of the favoritism of white nominees has pushed more accountability onto awards organizations. To emphasize, ratings from the Golden Globes and the GRAMMY awards were down more than 50 percent from last year. The reason for this is because younger viewers weren’t as interested. The public demands diversity, inclusion and representation more than ever before. Will the 2021 Oscars recognize diversity and inclusivity at a new level? Let’s find out how diverse the nominees are this year. 

POC and A Record-Breaking Diverse Nominee List

On March 15, the Oscars committee announced its nominee list, and it’s record breaking in diversity. Steven Yeun from “Minari” is the first Asian American nominee ever for Best Actor. Yuen’s co-star Yuh-Jung Young (for supporting actress) is the first Korean nominee. On the same note, Riz Ahmed of “Sound of Metal” is the first Pakistani and Muslim nominee in the Oscars awards. Finally, adding the late Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) as a black nominee for best actor. This is the first time that the Best Actor category in the Oscars represents a high level of diversity.

As far as the nominees for Best Actress goes, we have Viola Davis, who stars in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Additionally, another nominee for that category is Andra Day from “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Also, Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield from “Judas and The Black Messiah” are up for Best Supporting Actor. Additionally, Leslie Odom Jr. from “One Night in Miami” is also nominated. 

Nominees for Best Director include Chloe Zhao from “Nomadland,” who is also the first WOC nominee in this category. Zhao is a nominee for four separate categories this year, and she’s the first woman to do so. Alongside Zhao, there is also Emerald Fennell who stars in “Promising Young Woman.” This breaks another Oscars record: it’s the first year where more than one woman is nominated in this category. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson from “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” are the first Black women to be nominated in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category. Finally, we move on to Best Picture, where “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a nominee. The film’s producers – Charles D. King and Ryan Coogler – represent the first all-Black production team in a movie. 

Celebrities Speak Up Against Biased Awards Shows: What We’ve Learned

The Weeknd

Silent scandals are a major part of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The Oscars aren’t alone – there are plenty more organizations facing bad PR. Take the HFPA scandal, for example. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or HFPA, has a reputation for ethical conflicts. This of course, sparked an antitrust lawsuit against the HFPA, only to be dismissed last November. Lesson learned? Maybe not. But ever since the HFPA was exposed, more stars are fighting for representation and diversity in the entertainment industry.

The recent GRAMMY awards also face heavy criticism in the representation sector. In this situation, the award scandal involves The Weeknd being snubbed for song of the year for 2020. His single, “Blinding Lights,” was in the US Top 10 for over a year, which is why this raised a lot of eyebrows. “The Grammys remain corrupt,” The Weeknd writes on Twitter, after deciding to withhold his future works from consideration. “You owe me, my fans, and the industry transparency.” This tweet resonated with many people, since over 1 million fans liked it.

Also, remember the #BAFTAsoWhite hashtag trending last year? The British Academy Film Awards was quick to rise from public shame, and they did so by putting into effect over 100 changes to their awards. Likewise, #OSCARSsoWhite also followed suit. For instance, for the 2020 Oscars, only one black actor was nominated – Cynthia Erivo for Best Actress. Erivo opens up to the New York Times about the award show’s lack of diversity. “It’s not enough that I’m the only one. It just isn’t. Far too much work was done this year by incredible women and men of color that should be celebrated.” 

The Roadmap to Representation in Entertainment – Final Thoughts

The road to inclusive, more diverse spots at the Oscars and other awards shows still has a lot more work to go. In fact, celebrities and award winners are challenging the stigma by publicly speaking out against its lack of diversity. Social movements and the rising demand of representation of course, naturally reflect the opinion of awards viewers. Moreover, questions of intent, tokenism and performativity are high. Many argue that awards shows are trying to save face to increase their views and to not face more scrutiny

“We’re seeing notable gains for different communities, and it is important to celebrate that,” Dr. Stacy L. Smith of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative tells Variety. “There are still voices missing—for example, [‘One Night in Miami’s director] Regina King was left out of the directing nominations and few, if any, LatinX nominees were named this year, so there is no room for the Academy to continue its efforts. We will continue to watch the nominations to ensure that a year of ‘firsts’ does not become a year of ‘only.’”

The 93rd Academy Awards will take place Sunday, April 25 at the L.A. Union Station and the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center. You can watch it from home via Sky Cinema. You can also stream the awards show on ABC.com, the ABC app, Hulu + Live TV, Youtube TV, and AT&T TV.

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