On January 15, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its full list of nominees for its 87th Academy Awards ceremony. The announcements were made early, shuffled to an at-dawn time slot for what the Academy likely guessed would be an uneventful lead-up procedure for the big night.
They were wrong.
Audience reproach, largely based in Black Twitter, came swiftly and resolutely. They criticized the Academy for a failure to acknowledge the full breadth of achievement among film professionals of color for that year, namely in the “big six” categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
Not a single person of color was nominated for any of the individual awards (Alejandro González Iñárritu, nominee and Best Director winner for Birdman, while Latino, is white), and though Selma, a Black-oriented film, was among the nominees for Best Picture (losing to Birdman), none of its cast or crew were recognized for their efforts in any of the other five prestigious categories (“Glory,” featured in Selma, would go on to win Best Original Song).
Frustrations were especially compounded given the context of the previous year, where Black-oriented film 12 Years a Slave was nominated for and won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Additionally, Lupita Nyong’o won for Best Supporting Actress for her turn in the film, being the first Black African woman to win an Academy Award ever. Star of 12 Years Chiwetel Ejiofor was nominated in the male lead counterpart, and in Best Supporting Actor Barkhad Abdi would make history as the first Somali to be nominated for an Oscar.
So then, for a certain set of Oscar-lovers, it was as though the ceremony had regressed. The Academy, in the words of U.S. Congressman Tony Cárdenas, “failed to reflect the nation” or the racial- and gender-diverse talent of 2014 (Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, would have been only the fourth woman ever in Oscar history up for an award if nominated).
Thus is the origin of #OscarsSoWhite, a social movement that bubbles up year after year to serve as the Academy’s reckoning, holding it accountable for any further lapses in representation.
The Academy, to its credit, has promised to do better. In 2016 they assured the public that they would double their female and minority membership by some time last year (in 2012, 94 percent of Academy members were reported to be white, 77 percent male). And in a more drastic measure, the organization will also be implementing “diversity quotas,” standards of representation that will determine if submissions are eligible for nomination. These are set to go into effect by next year.
This push seems to have paid off, for today on March 15, six years after the birth of an enduring hashtag, the 93rd Academy Award nominations were announced – and they are set to make history for their efforts in representation.
The nominees for Best Actor are: Riz Ahmed, Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, and Steven Yeun. It is the first time that three actors of color have been nominated together for this award, and the first time that nominees of color have outnumbered white nominees. Additionally, Yeun and Ahmed break barriers with their nominations. Yeun is the first actor of Korean descent to be nominated for this award, and Ahmed is both the first Muslim and actor of Pakistani descent to be nominated for this award.
The nominees for Best Director are: Thomas Vinterberg, David Fincher, Lee Isaac Chung, Chloé Zhao, and Emerald Fennell. This marks the first time in the award’s existence that there is more than one female nominee for any given year. Additionally, Zhao makes history as the first woman of color to be nominated for this award, and Chung as its first Korean American.
With the nominations of Judas and the Black Messiah, Promising Young Woman, Minari, Sound of Metal, and The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is the first time in the history of the Best Original Screenplay award where scripts focused on white male subjects were not in the majority.
And for her role in Minari, Yuh-jung Youn is first Korean woman to be nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category.
There is far more to celebrate in each and every one of the awards. The 2020-2021 extended Oscar season was an incredible year for film. It shared with the world a range of talents and stories that for too have gone ignored or underexplored. Good on the Academy for realizing that.