The Oscars Had a Chance to Be More Diverse Than Ever in 2020 and Blew It

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will likely start trending once again, given that 2020 represents one of the least diverse years for nominees.
"Midsommar," "Uncut Gems," "The Farewell"
Oscars: Academy Voters Have Limited Options When It Comes to Diversity
"The Farewell"
Shia LaBeouf in HONEY BOY
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Oscars: Academy Voters Have Limited Options When It Comes to Diversity
27 Images

With Oscar viewership still hovering at record lows, diversity among its 2020 nominees might have provided the Academy Awards celebration with a much-needed ratings jolt. Inclusion sells, and a 2015 Nielsen report found that the more diverse the major-category nominees, the larger the audience.

In the past, there was less the Academy could do to influence that outcome; no matter how much it diversifies its membership, they can’t vote on movies or performances that don’t exist. And despite all the chatter on the need to be more diverse and inclusive, and after a banner 2019 that seemed to signal a much-needed shift, this year’s nominees indicate that change remains inconsistent and slow to arrive. It’s very likely that #OscarsSoWhite will start trending once again.

The highlight of the year is probably “Parasite,” which received six nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It would be a major letdown if it didn’t go home with at least one of them. Conversely, the biggest disappointments come from the acting categories, with just one performer of color (Cynthia Erivo) nominated across all four categories. The supporting categories are typically where performers of color have historically shined, but not this year. Too often, plum roles in Oscar-caliber films continue to elude actors and actresses of color and that continues to be the case.

Ultimately, this year’s nominations suggest that the industry continues to undervalue stories that aren’t about and by white men, especially when it comes to awards-caliber work. From the decisions on which projects have been greenlit, to who and what gets nominated, a discriminatory system continues to shut out many groups.

It’s therefore imperative that executives with decision making power work to ensure a more diverse and inclusive movie pipeline. That might be the only way that the Oscars will remain relevant in the future.

Here’s how this year’s major categories break down.

Best Picture

The year’s nominations aren’t quite as diverse as last year’s, when a record five out of eight nominees told stories that centered on people of color. (The Academy raised the number of eligible films from five to between five and 10 in 2009.) The only nominee this year ticking the diversity box is “Parasite.”

Overlooked: Netflix’s Rudy Ray Moore biopic “Dolemite Is My Name,” and Lulu Wang’s family dramedy “The Farewell” were certainly in the conversation, but neither scored nominations. In fact, both were completely shut out of every single category.

Bong Joon-Ho'Parasite' premiere, 66th Sydney Film Festival, Australia - 15 Jun 2019
Bong Joon-HoRichard Milnes/Shutterstock

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón won the Oscar last year for “Roma.” He and Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”) were the only two directors of color nominated. This year, Bong Joon Ho is the only director of color to make the final cut for “Parasite.” It’s his first-ever Oscar nomination.

Overlooked: The Academy followed the Globes in completely shutting out women directors. There were several worthy candidates to choose from this year, and Lulu Wang was one of them for “The Farewell.”

Taika Waititi’s satirical tragicomedy “Jojo Rabbit,” which he co-starred in and wrote, is nominated for Best Picture, but he didn’t make the cut for Best Director.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME!, 2019, DOL_Unit_06748FD.psd
“Dolemite Is My Name”François Duhamel/NETFLIX

Best Actor

Rami Malek was the solo nominee of color last year for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” becoming only the second actor of Egyptian descent to be nominated in an acting category. And he won the Oscar. This year, the category is devoid of any diversity with all five nominees being white actors — although Antonio Banderas, nominated for “Pain and Glory,” brings one international face to the table with a Spanish-speaking role.

Overlooked: Eddie Murphy for his performance in “Dolemite Is My Name” was really the only person of color with a shot at a nomination. The general absence of nominees of color contending for the Best Actor Oscar speaks to a persistent lack of lead roles for men of color in film in general. Murphy did pick up a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.


Best Actress

This continues to be one of the least diverse categories, with just five actresses of color nominated in the last decade. As is the case in the Best Actor category, the drought speaks to what has been a lack of lead roles for women of color in film, especially when it comes to Oscar-worthy material. The last time an actress of color won this category was Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” in 2002.

Cynthia Erivo picked up a nomination this year for her performance in “Harriet.” It’s her first Oscar nomination. She’s also nominated in the Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures category for the song “Stand Up,” which she shares with Joshuah Brian Campbell. Erivo is now the third person after Mary J. Blige and Lady Gaga to earn dual Oscar nominations for acting and song in the same year.

Overlooked: Nominations for Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”) and/or Awkwafina (“The Farewell”) would have strengthened the category’s diversity quotient. Alfre Woodard, once thought to be a favorite for “Clemency,” seemed to have dropped out of favor, snubbed by the Globes, SAG, and now the Oscars as well. She did receive an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

"Jojo Rabbit"
“Jojo Rabbit”Fox Searchlight

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali won this category twice in the last three years (“Moonlight” and “Green Book”). He was the only nominee of color last year. Before Ali, the last time an actor of color won the Oscar was in 2005, when Morgan Freeman took it home for “Million Dollar Baby.” While this is typically one of the more diverse categories, there are no actors of color nominated this year.

Overlooked: Missed opportunities include Song Kang Ho (“Parasite”), Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy”), Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”), Sterling K. Brown (“Waves”), and Wesley Snipes (“Dolemite Is My Name”)..


Best Supporting Actress

Actresses of color have won the Oscar in this category five of the last 10 years: Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, Lupita Nyong’o, Viola Davis, and Regina King, who won the award last year as one of two nominees of color (Marina de Tavira was the other for “Roma”). But this year, the category isn’t diverse at all. All five nominees are white actresses.

Overlooked: Jennifer Lopez seemed like she stood a real at scoring a nomination for “Hustlers,” so it’s a real shocker that she didn’t make the cut. Also, Zhao Shuzhen for “The Farewell” was very much in the conversation. Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“Dolemite Is My Name”) and Jo Yeo-jeong (“Parasite”) were longshots, but certainly deserved it.

Destin Cretton, director/co-writer of "Just Mercy," poses for a portrait at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel during the Toronto International Film Festival, in Toronto2019 TIFF - "Just Mercy" Portrait Session, Toronto, USA - 07 Sep 2019
Destin Daniel CrettonChris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Best Adapted Screenplay

This is historically one of the least diverse categories. But when writers of color do pick up nominations, they tend to win. In the last decade, writers of color have been nominated five times, and won four of them.

Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” were the only two nominees of color last year.

This year, Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”) is the only nominee of color in the category. His adaption of Christine Leunens’ book “Caging Skies” is also one of five finalists for the USC Scripter Award for best film adaptation, which has proven to be a strong predictor for the Oscar in this category, including eight of the last 10 winners.

Overlooked: Left out of the mix is Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Just Mercy” (co-written with Andrew Lanham), which is an adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.” It never quite mustered a significant amount of critical buzz, despite generally positive reviews, especially for its performances.

Lulu Wang
Lulu WangSFFILM/Tommy Lau

Best Original Screenplay

Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite” was a no-brainer as a nominee. It’s been a good year for the filmmaker and the film, both at the box office and accolades. It’s also been a good year for South Korean cinema overall, with “In the Absence” nominated in the Documentary (Short Subject).

Overlooked: As one of the best-reviewed films of the year, “The Farewell” (written by Lulu Wang) had the potential to play spoiler. But it was ignored.

"Les Misérables"
“Les Misérables”SRAB Films/Rectangle Productions/Lyly films

Best International Feature Film

Typically a diverse category, “Les Misérables” and “Parasite” both picked up nominations as expected.

Overlooked: Mati Diop’s ghost love story “Atlantics” was shut out. A nomination would’ve been historic, a first-ever for Senegal. It would have also been the first time that two films by filmmakers of African descent were nominated in this category, the other being “Les Misérables,” the French submission that made the cut.

THE LION KING - Featuring the voices of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as Nala and Donald Glover as Simba, Disney’s “The Lion King” is directed by Jon Favreau. In theaters July 19, 2019. © 2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
“The Lion King”Disney

Best Animated Feature

Animation directors of color still underrepresented in the industry overall. Last year, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which was co-directed by Peter Ramsey, and Mamoru Hosoda’s Mirai, were the only nominees to check the diversity box. This year there are none.

Overlooked: “The Lion King.” With a voice cast that included Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and James Earl Jones, it surpassed “Frozen” to become the highest-grossing animated film of all-time. It was also the second highest-grossing film of 2019. Although it should be noted that Disney did not submit the film to the animation branch of the Academy, opting for a live action nomination instead.

“American Factory”Sundance

Best Documentary

The most diverse categories this year, four of the five nominees check the diversity box: “American Factory,” “The Cave” “Edge of Democracy” and “For Sama.”

Overlooked: The untold history of China’s one-child policy in “One Child Nation” was a worthy contender, but it’s a stacked category this year, and there can only be five nominees.

The Irishman
“The Irishman”Netflix

Best Cinematography

Typically one of the least diverse categories, Rodrigo Prieto (“The Irishman”) is the only nominee of color this year. This is his third nomination. He was previously nominated for “Silence” (2016) and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). Although he’s never won. This could be his year.

Overlooked: Hong Kyung-pyo for his execution of director Bong Joon-Ho’s vision with stunning visual contrasts in “Parasite.”

"Dolemite Is My Name"
“Dolemite Is My Name”Netflix

Best Costume Design

Ruth Carter made history last year when she won the costume design Oscar for Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” becoming the first African American to do so in that category. History won’t be made this year, given that every single nominee is white.

Overlooked: Ruth Carter for designing a wide range of looks for Netflix’s Eddie Murphy period movie, “Dolemite Is My Name,” based on the life of 1970s blaxploitation comedian Rudy Ray Moore.

Parasite, Bong Joon-ho

Best Editing

“Parasite” editor Jinmo Yang is the only nominee of color this year, in what has historically been one of the least diverse categories. Joi McMillon was the last person of color (and the first black woman) to be nominated for her work on “Moonlight” in 2016. Before McMillon, Tariq Anwar picked up a nomination in 2010 for “The King’s Speech.”

Overlooked: Editors of color rarely get to work on high profile films that contend for awards. Even the 2019 films directed by and starring people of color, were mostly edited by white editors. So it’s nearly impossible to say who might have been overlooked this year.

As is the case in every other category, especially those that lack diversity, no matter how diverse the Academy becomes, it can’t nominate work that simply doesn’t exist.

The 92nd annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 9, 2020. Nominations will be announced on Monday, January 13, 2020.

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