With the 2016 Academy Awards at the root of the cynically popular hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, after no POC (people of colour) actors and actresses were nominated for any awards, The Academy got quite a bit of flack from the public. This year, however, the nominees were considerably more diverse than in previous years. With 35% of the nominees for the four Best (Supporting) Actor/Actress categories being people of colour, it was evident that this year had the potential to begin to spell progress in racial dialogue in Hollywood.
Last night, on the biggest awards night of the year, in a stunning turn of events, both Supporting Actor/Actress awards went to African-American winners: Mahershala Ali for his role in Moonlight, and Viola Davis for her role in Fences. In fact, Ali is the first Muslim actor to ever win an Academy Award. Additionally, Moonlight‘s victory (and somewhat of an upset) in the Best Picture category marks another triumph for diversity.
In spite of this seemingly remarkable progress, one thing that definitely stood out to me was that Dev Patel was the only Asian nominee, and historically, only the 13th actor of Asian descent to ever be nominated for an Oscar in an acting role. Considering that the Asian continent comprises almost 60% of the world’s total population, this is a striking statistic. In terms of the Academy Awards, this notable lack of Asian nominees can only be an indication that there is still much to be done in terms of recognizing and acknowledging the roles of minority actors and actresses in North America.
Seeing so many POC actors and actresses finally being recognized for their outstanding work in film is fantastic, but was this year just a blip in the fight for racial diversity in Hollywood? Were there just so many distinguished performances by POC actors that they were impossible to overlook? Was The Academy attempting to save face after last year’s backlash? Whatever the answers to these questions might be, we can only hope that the work of people from such diverse backgrounds continues to be celebrated in the future, and that 2017 was the beginning of increased recognition for minorities in mainstream and popular culture. Without question, there is still a lot of work to be done, but as long as we continue to encourage positive dialogue, progress is just on the horizon.