Oscars still lag in minority representation

This year, the sole non-black acting nominee of colour was British-Indian actor Dev Patel for his supporting performance in ‘Lion’


Octavia Spencer is nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in ‘Hidden Figures.’ Photo: AP
Octavia Spencer is nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in ‘Hidden Figures.’ Photo: AP

Los Angeles: The 2017 Oscar nominations were a banner year for black nominees both in front of and behind the camera, but other non-white groups and women were largely left out of the running. As #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign said, her hashtag was never about just black actors, but all communities marginalized in Hollywood including Asians, Latinos, and women.

“We still have work to do,” said Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association.

This year, the sole non-black acting nominee of colour was British-Indian actor Dev Patel for his supporting performance in Lion. It’s been over 13 years since another Indian — Ben Kingsley — was nominated. Kinglsey is also the only person of Asian/Indian descent to be nominated for best actor (two nominations, one win).

The lead actress category is even bleaker for Asian women. You have to go back to 1935 to find the only nominee.

Latinos, too, have been missing from the acting nominations for years. Demian Bichir was the last Latino best actor nominee in 2012. In the supporting category, you have to look to 2004 and Benicio del Toro’s nomination for 21 Grams. Del Toro also won in the category in 2001 for Traffic — the only actor to ever win for a Spanish-speaking role.

The last time a lead actress of Latino descent was nominated was Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno in 2005 for Maria Full of Grace.

“We just have to keep on doing good films and if in the United States these get picked up and they get a little bit of attention, well, it’s great,” said Mexican actor and director Gael Garcia Bernal. “But at the same time, it’s something that is not in our hands. We need to just make good films.”

Supporting actor nominee Mahershala Ali hopes that people of colour can become part of the fabric of entertainment in a “real and organic way.”

Behind the camera, after a three year stretch of Mexican filmmakers winning best director, this year none were nominated. The only Latino nominee in any category this year is Rodrigo Prieto, who was nominated for best cinematography for Silence. If he wins, it will be the fifth year in a row that a Latino has won that prize.

Asians behind the camera were a little more represented. La La Land’s Ai-ling Lee became the first Asian sound editing nominee.

And La La Land’s Tom Cross, who is half-Vietnamese, is up for the editing award. Toshio Suzuki is nominated for best animated feature for The Red Turtle, as is Joanna Natasegara for best documentary short for The White Helmets.

This past year, the academy also gave Jackie Chan an honorary Oscar.

“It’s not about the awards, it’s about the creators, the actual birth of those stories,” said Patel.

Women, too, are a minority in Hollywood. For women behind the camera, things have gotten worse overall, despite some strides, including Jackie composer Mica Levi becoming the first woman to be nominated for original score.

However, it’s been seven years since there was a female best director nominee when Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker. Before Bigelow, there had been only three female directing nominees in the history of the awards.

Only one woman was nominated in any screenwriting category, Allison Schroeder for Hidden Figures, down from three last year, and, once again, no women were nominated for cinematography.

Other categories experienced similar drops, save an increase in nominations for women in the sound editing and sound mixing categories, thanks to La La Land’s Ai-ling Lee.

Overall representation of women in Oscar-nominated behind-the-scenes categories fell 2%, according to a recent report from the Women’s Media Center.

But this isn’t surprising to those who follow the industry year round.

“This year is similar to previous years where we don’t have enough women in many of the positions behind the scenes,” said Melissa Silverstein, the founder and publisher of the Women and Hollywood blog. “It’s wonderful to see a lot of female producers whose films are nominated for best picture, but again this illuminates how difficult it is for women to rise to the top of the business and to be taken seriously at this level.”

And it’s not just a box office issue, Silverstein says. It’s also about prestige.

“When money is there, there are fewer women. When prestige is there, there are fewer women,” she said. “This has not changed and I don’t see this changing on the horizon. At the Oscars we just notice it a lot more.”

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