By: Meghan Malas
The 89th Academy Awards are set to take place this February 27, and as someone who rarely takes the time to think about the significance of award shows in our culture, much less the significance of the people who win the awards, I took it upon myself to explore why this year’s Oscars deserve attention.
The Academy Awards are one of many widely broadcasted award shows designed to recognize those who have excelled in their art form. Whether it be acting, music, technology, design, or any other contribution to the entertainment industry, our nation has long seen the value in commending the talented members of our society and their success. It is a way to support artists and the arts in a time when seeking out success in the highly competitive entertainment industry is risky and often viewed as a bad career move. This is part of the reason the nominee picks for the 2016 Academy Awards were so controversial. After the Academy did not nominate a single actor or actress of color last year, the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy flooded social media and the mainstream. Several celebrities boycotted the event, on the basis that the lack of diversity was enough of a reason not to validate the awards show.
Several prominent people of color debuted in successful films in the year prior to the 2016 Oscars, and many prominent Hollywood figures like Spike Lee, Ernesto Ruscio, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, George Clooney, Lupita Nyong’o, Mark Ruffalo, and Al Sharpton stated that the lack of recognition of the achievements made by the racially diverse was harmful to the entertainment industry, as well as the American culture. But this year the nominees are in sharp contrast to those of last year. As BBC reports, Denzel Washington is nominated as best actor for Fences and Ruth Negga as best actress for Loving. Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali and Lion’s Dev Patel are up for best supporting actor. The supporting actress category includes Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight and Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures.
Three of the nine films up for best picture – Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight – feature predominantly black casts. In the directing category, Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins is only the fourth black best director nominee in Oscar history. Many of those who nominate the artists for awards insist that last year’s back-lash had no influence on the picks for this years awards, and that “ these nominees, up against the same competition, would have been nominated in either of the last two years” (CNN). Regardless of why the talented members of the entertainment industry were chosen to be recognized, this year’s Oscars deserve the attention of all who wish to support the arts and commend those who have overcome adversity in the mainstream.