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Will #OscarsSoWhite be back in 2020?

Backstage at the Oscars after Spike Lee won the award for Adapted Screenplay for BlackkKlansman

Clocking in at 3 hours and 23 minutes, this year’s Oscars ceremony, cruised by sans host, at the Dolby Theater on Sunday evening without a miss. The event powered through a hefty list of presenters, nominees, and musical performances. At every turn, there was a concerted effort by the production to highlight its increased awareness surrounding diversity. However, in an industry where perception is everything, was the spectrum of faces, accents, and even Spanish spoken from the stage, nearly enough? Are we, the complex non-monolithic and sizable community of color at large, truly seeing a reflection of ourselves in the list of nominees and winners?

Given the seismic shift in the landscape of film and theater audiences it is clear that although we have made some progress, we have yet to achieve the full potential of technicolor in cinema.  We are stuck in the stage of the process where overcorrection is simply a flaw in call out culture, leading us down a road in which we pat ourselves on the back only to end up in the year 2020 with the hashtag #oscarssowhite remaining necessary. As April Reign, the founder of the awareness campaign to increase diversity efforts in Hollywood astutely points out: “there is still work to be done.”

The number of nominees and winners are up from the previous last three years with Black artists making modest gains, and women as whole more than doubling the awards received in comparison to last year. Still, Latinx (particularly Afro-Latinx), Indigenous, and Asian representation is sorely lacking.

So with all of that in mind, let’s break down some of the highlights:

1. It’s been 30 years since the Academy missed the opportunity to recognize Spike Lee for “Do The Right Thing”, and he did not throw away his shot to address it when accepting the award of best adapted screenplay for “BlackkKlansman”, by delivering an acceptance speech for the ages. He spoke truth to power, but also, gave us a call to action:

“Before the world tonight, I give praise to our ancestors who have built this country into what it is today along with the genocide of its native people. We all connect with our ancestors. We will have love and wisdom regained, we will regain our humanity. It will be a powerful moment. The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize. Let’s all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let’s do the right thing! You know I had to get that in there.”

2. “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse” claimed the prize for best animated feature. The visually stunning film centers around an Afro-Latinx teen, Miles Morales, who is suddenly thrust into the comic book world discovering that his newfound powers have entangled him in a web of family secrets. Accepting the award for this landmark project was the film’s director, Peter Ramsey, who made Oscar history as the category’s first ever Black nominee, and winner.

3. “Black Panther” did not go home empty handed. Production designer, Hannah Beachler, and Costume Designer, Ruth E. Carter, both blazed trails as the first ever African-Americans to be recognized in their respective categories as well. Additionally, “Black Panther” won original score.

4. Rami Malek, the star of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, took home the best actor award, and in a heartfelt speech highlighted his Egyptian immigrant background, and reminded us that Freddie Mercury was not white. He also brought awareness to HIV/AIDS victims and the value of acknowledging LGBTQ stories.

5. Diego Luna, Javier Bardem, and Alfonso Cuarón all took the opportunity to speak Spanish during the telecast. “Ya se puede hablar español en los Oscars. Ya nos abrieron la puerta y no nos vamos a ir,” Luna said. The turn of phrase is tongue in cheek when translated into Spanish, they opened the door and they can’t kick us out. He also referred to “Roma” as a story of “lonely women and absent men”, leaving us with so much to be unpacked.

Bardem made mention of the current US administration’s effort to erect a wall along the southern border. “No hay fronteras, no hay muros que frenen el ingenio y el talento. En cada región, en cada país, en cada continente del mundo, hay historias que nos conmueven.” Meaning: There are no borders, no walls that can hold back genius and talent. In every region, country, and every continent, there are moving, powerful stories.

His words were a rallying cry for refugees and immigrants to take pride in our histories.

Cuarón thanked both Libo, his former nanny, and México as major sources of inspiration for his film based on his childhood about his coming of age during a tumultuous 1970’s México.

6. “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly, won best picture, but harkened back to a tried and true formula of white saviorism popular with awards shows. The film itself has sparked much controversy over its narrative in order to make it Academy Award friendly, despite critique from Dr. Don Shirley’s family, and in spite of a powerhouse performance by the inimitable Mahershala Ali. We find ourselves rooting for Mr. Ali, even when the story has been co-opted by the white lens.

Speaking of.

7. “Roma” won big, and yet, something felt amiss. Cuarón stepped onto the stage three times to accept awards for cinematography, foreign language film, and director, making a huge splash for Netflix, and himself. It should be noted, however, that much like the limited voice of Yalitza Aparicio’s character in Cuarón’s “Roma” there is something revealing about the construct of Latinidad as an umbrella under which all Latinx storytelling should fall under. It seems that within our community, our stories are only valid when a white Latinx man is telling them on our behalf.

So, then.

It is widely understood that the machinations of Hollywood are rigid and contrived. We often hear about how difficult it is to have stories by artists of color receive financial backing, let alone score representation of color, and have that representation exist at all stages of production. Still, the viewing audience yearns for these stories and statistics show that entertainment featuring its diversity as prominent are capable of outperforming the ones where it is in lack or worse yet, non-existent.

This plagues the Latinx community not only in film, but on television as well. Given the need to expand our narratives and see ourselves as more than just immigrant criminals, the help, and mirrors of injustice that prompt white characters to rescue us by evoking repressed compassion, how do we move forward?

If the 2019 Oscars are any indication, we need new frameworks for managing the pipelines of production. The current networks and channels of distribution are not evolving fast enough to keep pace with the demand. We cannot rely on the Cuarón’s and Farrelly’s to be the ones bringing our stories to the big screen. If the Oscars are in fact so white, then, we need to place capital behind our gifted storytellers so that voices from the entire spectrum can be elevated. We also need women being empowered to tell their own stories, lest we receive offerings that lack the nuance and depth needed to fully represent themselves. Only then will we lift up Black and Brown stories to where they properly belong.

Besides, the door is open. They can’t kick us out.

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