Unequal Representation at the Academy Awards

Before this year, I had never watched the Oscars from start to finish. With the exception of the musical performances (I love me some Pharrell), award shows just really aren’t my thing. I’ve never paid any particular attention to who was nominated and who won, but my experience in my Gender, Media and Diversity class (and perhaps partially influenced by the extra credit opportunity on the table) sparked my interest. I decided to watch this awards show with a critical eye geared towards the representation of gender and diversity amongst nominees and winners.

There’s really no other way to say this: there were a hell of a lot of white people being nominated, and the crowd was overwhelmingly white. So I decided to do some digging, and research the history of the event. I wanted to find out who had been winning.

The answer? White people were winning Oscars, particularly white males (at least when they aren’t limited by a category prefaced with the Actress label).

To what extent? Here’s some interesting stuff I stumbled across:

In 1954, 25 years after the first Academy Awards, Dorothy Dandridge was the first African American female to be nominated for Best Actress. It would be nearly 50 years before an African American would win Best Actress.

In 2001, Halle Berry was recognized for her role in Monster’s Ball and took home an Oscar for Best Actress. To date, Berry is the only black woman to win an Oscar in this category.

In this same year, Denzel Washington won Best Actor for his role in Training Day, the first time that two black performers won leading role Oscars in the same year. To date, four African American men have won Best Actor.

Out of the 20 nominees that represented Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the 86th Annual Academy Awards, only three were African American.

Kathryn Bigelow has been the only female director to win an Oscar. Female directors are often denied the same opportunities as their male counterparts. In fact, overall employment opportunities for men far outweigh women in the film industry. According to a report on women in the film industry, women comprised only 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors in the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2012. Yet there is a plethora of women that specialize in these categories!

This year, during the 86th Annual Academy Awards, Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years a Slave.  She was the only woman of color among the five nominees in this category, and the only African American winner among Best Actor and Actress and Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Side note: Am I the only one who gets a little bit irked by the separate categories for actor and actress? I feel like it insinuates something about the unlikelihood of a female winning against a male… But that’s another topic for a different day.

While there is much work to be done before we see equal representation, it does seem as if we are making progress. Since 2010, three of the five winners for Best Supporting Actress have been African American females. But I would like to see another win in Best Actress to stand alongside Halle Berry. In fact, I would like to see a much more diverse set of nominees and winners, and am hopeful that we can achieve equal representation not only at the Oscar’s, but in film opportunities and beyond as well.

For additional information, visit  The Oscars Historical Timeline. Otherwise, enjoy my favorite part of this years show:


One thought on “Unequal Representation at the Academy Awards

  1. I think that what you said in the end is the key point. We need better opportunities and representations in the film industry, period. We need Black actors and actresses to get hired more often, and for better roles. We need Black directors, screenwriters, and producers to get more work. When THAT starts happening, then we’ll likely see more awards being handed out.

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