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At this year’s Oscars, diverse forces agitated for change

Last night at the 90th annual Academy Awards, Best Actress award-winner Frances McDormand used her acceptance speech to champion inclusion riders, obscure contract clauses that actors could put in their contracts requiring the demographics of the cast and crew to meet certain diversity goals. She explained backstage that after 35 years in the industry, she had only learned about inclusion clauses last week, but believes they could be a game-changer for an industry that has often been criticized for its lack of diversity. “It changes now,” she said. “And I think the inclusion rider will have something to do with that.”

McDormand’s speech was one of the more radical moments in an evening full of other milestones, where Jordan Peele became the first black winner in the Best Original Screenplay category for Get Out, and Rachel Morrison was the first female nominee for cinematography. But her backstage comments also highlighted how much further the film industry still has to go. As activist and #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign put it in her Oscars morning-after analysis with CNN, “We have some record nominations this year for the black community, but the fact that we are still talking about firsts in 2018 means there’s a lot more that needs to be done in our community as well.”

Reign also made the point that the black community’s recent Hollywood triumphs — Get Out, Black Panther, and A Wrinkle in Time — don’t mean that Hollywood is off the hook for representation when it comes to Asian American and Latinx American actors, directors, and writers. Although Coco, a Pixar film inspired by Mexican culture, won Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, a visible victory for Latinx representation in Hollywood, many Latinx fans still hunger for a live action film like Black Panther that puts them center stage. And while Kumail Nanjiani was a presenter and Kazuhiro Tsuji pocketed an Oscar for best makeup and hairstyling, Asian Americans were otherwise largely absent from the stage and the nominees list. Female representation was down too; only six women took home Oscars this year, the lowest since 2012.

Nanjiani was also the standout in a diversity montage that starred Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Lee Daniels (the TV show Empire), and Salma Hayek (The Hitman’s Bodyguard). Everyone in the reel had something biting and heartbreaking to say about diversity. Nanjiani took it away with his comment, “Now straight white dudes can watch movies about dudes like me, and you relate. It’s not that hard; I’ve done it all my life.” “There ain’t nothing to be scared of,” added comedian and actress Sarah Silverman. “It’s just equality.”

And there are other signs of change. In previous years, the prevalence of films with mainly white casts inspired pushback — including the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag — and in 2016, the Academy responded with reforms that included a push to double the number of women and minorities voting within five years.

Vulture spoke to 14 of these voters — half women, and a third people of color — including one director who noted that “When Moonlight won [last year], it felt like the new members of the Academy, myself included, really had made a difference.” Another said, “I was proud that the Academy nominated Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig for Best Director and that only two of the five nominated directors were white males. It definitely doesn’t mean the representation problem in Hollywood has been solved, but I think it’s a sign that things are at least starting to move in the right direction.”

But these new voters are often at odds with the old guard of Hollywood, which remains predominantly white and male. Some older Academy voters admitted they hadn’t even watched Get Out but just knew it wasn’t “an Oscar film,” one new voter recalled to Vulture. The film didn’t fit these voters’ narrow criteria for Oscar-worthiness. Another anonymous voter told The Hollywood Reporter that they didn’t consider Get Out for Best Picture because “they played the race card, and that really turned me off.”

In this year’s ceremony, Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph jokingly referenced the pushback against the diversity efforts and the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. “We just wanted to say, don’t worry,” Rudolph said, “There are so many more white people to come tonight.”


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