A Reminder: The Oscars Are Still Very White

Only one actor of colour, Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, was named among the 20 nominees in the Oscars’ four acting categories.

Perhaps the most shocking omission of this year’s Oscar nominations was a harbinger for what was to come: Jennifer Lopez did not receive a best supporting actress nomination for the box-office hit Hustlers kicking off what ended up being an almost entirely white field of acting nominations.

Only one actor of colour, best actress nominee Cynthia Erivo for Harriet was named among the 20 nominees in the Oscars’ four acting categories. (Best actor nominee Antonio Banderas, nominated for Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory is white.)

For two consecutive years in 2015 and 2016, the Oscars selected an entirely white slate of acting nominees, sparking activist April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. Activism from Reign and many others prompted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to announce long-needed changes to promote a more inclusive membership.

But the latest nominations were a reminder that change, particularly at the top, can be very, very slow, and the academy can’t just rest on its laurels and pat itself on the back for incremental gains from year to year. So much change is often one step forward, two steps back. (See also: last year’s Best Picture win for Green Book.)

Unlike a couple of years ago, the Oscars this year had plenty more opportunities to nominate people of colour, as representation in Hollywood for people of colour — although still incremental — has grown, thanks in part to the activism of #OscarsSoWhite.

In addition to Lopez, there were a number of other worthy contenders in the running, including but not limited to: Lupita Nyong’o for Us, Awkwafina for The Farewell, Eddie Murphy for Dolemite Is My Name and Song Kang-ho for Parasite.

Perhaps the saddest observation regarding 2020′s nominations was that the nearly all-white acting nominees were not exactly surprising. Many Oscar prognosticators were predicting that actors of colour would mostly be shut out, as the ones in the running weren’t considered front-runners or a sure bet.

That reflects how recognising more people of colour at the Oscars and other top awards requires not just incremental changes, but an entire culture shift in what kinds of stories and people are deemed worthy of awards and are seen as top contenders.


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