This year’s award season is coming to a close. At the 92nd Oscars on February 9th, many spent their night celebrating the groundbreaking and record-breaking winners. South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho walked away with four Oscars for his film, “Parasite.” This makes it the first film in a language other than English to with Best Picture, and Joon-Ho the first South Korean to win Best Director. Taika Waititi wins Best Adapted Screenplay for his film “Jojo Rabbit,” making him the first Indigenous person to be nominated in this category, as well as the first Indigenous director to win. Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver won Best Animated Short for their “Hair Love,” a picture that pushes for the normalization of natural black hair.
These wins are historic and celebrating them is necessary. However, once again the Oscars poked fun at the lack of diversity rather than showing any actual improvement. Steve Martin and Chris Rock opened the ceremony with many jokes such as Rock’s line, “Cynthia [Erivo] did such a great job in ‘Harriet’ hiding black people, that The Academy got her to hide all the black nominees.” Or their back and forth banter commenting that “something was missing” from the Best Director category this year: “vaginas.”
Recently, every year the hosts or presenters write material that calls attention to The Academy’s incessant diversity issue. Year after year talented artists of color, LGBT+ artists, and women artists getting “snubbed” and it seems all that comes from it is more reason to make “woke” jokes. While comedy is often America’s way of calling attention to a problem, this is a real issue. A real issue that has been overlooked and perpetrated since the first Oscar awards ceremony. The reputation and status The Academy holds over Western popular culture affects what kind of media the public is consuming and judging (whether positively or negatively so), regardless of whether they want to believe it or not. This means, if The Academy is only congratulating film and art made by white artists, that is what the mainstream public will enjoy, promote, and discuss.
There is some serious work that needs to be done by the voters at The Academy, and they should start by widening their scope and dismantling their seemingly deep-seated racist, homophobic, xenophobic and misogynistic tendencies. “Parasite” is a history-making example of what looking beyond the mainstream West can do. Bong Joon-Ho wrote and directed a completely original work entirely in his native Koren and won four Oscars, tying him with Walt Disney himself. Not only do they need to look farther than Western countries, but they need to acknowledge talent in our own and surrounding countries. Greta Gerwig, Lulu Wang, Lorene Scarfaria, Alma Har’el and Marielle Heller are all women directors that were snubbed this year to an all-male Best Director category.
Even though mainstream award shows can and do affect the public’s outlook, we all have the power to change what is and is not considered part of our popular culture. We are capable of encouraging all types of art created by all types of people. If we prioritize diversity in the media we consume, we can change the direction of the corporate eye. When a film does well at the box office, Academy and corporate officials take that to mean that that film is a good, successful piece of media. They take that to mean that it should be rewarded and continue to be capitalized on. If the public consumes and enjoys diverse media, that will pave the way for more diverse media to be created and put in a spotlight.
So, Academy: you have a lot of work to do. Yes, the wonderful works that won this year deserve to be celebrated fully. However, this feels like too little too late. There is more that can be done than allowing hosts and presenters to poke fun at the mistakes you have made. There are millions of artists working to put out new, inventive work everyday. It is 2020 and, whether we like it or not, you are affecting what work gets popularized and discussed on a very broad scale. You are contributing to the narrative that only white people can do well in and outside of the arts. This is simply unacceptable. Work harder. Do better.