Oscars Still #SoWhite, Despite Some Improvements in Nominee Diversity
In the eight years since activist April Reign’s #OscarsSoWhite went viral, the Academy Awards have made some changes to improve diversity and inclusion — but a new study from USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative found that, for the most part, the Oscars nominees remain so white.
Among the good bits from the study: The percentage of nominees among underrepresented racial or ethnic groups has jumped from 8 percent between 2008 and 2015 to 17 percent between 2016 and 2023. During that same 2008 to 2015 period, women comprised 21 percent of Oscar nominees, a number that’s jumped to 27 percent over the last eight years.
The study, which examined 16 of 19 Oscar categories, found that overall the “percentage of underrepresented nominees more than doubled,” with the biggest gains coming in the Best Adapted Screenplay, Director, Supporting Actor, Documentary Feature, and Best Actor categories. There were some caveats, however, like that the gains for Best Director and Adapted Screenplay “are largely due to the substantial increase in underrepresented men rather than underrepresented women.”
Furthermore, the study noted that there’s still no “proportional representation” between the percentage of underrepresented nominees in a given category with the roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population that identifies with an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. In fact, the category that comes closest to that threshold is Best Original Song, with underrepresented nominees comprising 37 percent of the category — but as the study notes: “[T]he figure for Best Song under indexes relative to the presence of underrepresented artists on the popular music charts and represents a stereotypical domain.”
The study also looked at the Oscars’ largely white, largely male 95-year history and turned up some not-necessarily-surprising but still staggering statistics. Women of color represent just 2 percent of total nominees. Twenty percent of all Black nominees have been in the Best Original Song category. Only eight women have been nominated for Best Director, four of those nominations came after 2017, and only three women have won. Three male filmmakers (Alejandro Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón, and Guillermo del Toro) account for 17 percent of all Hispanic/Latino Oscar winners. And 9% of all Asian Oscar nominees were nominated this year, with the vast majority of them associated with Everything Everywhere All at Once (to boot, nearly a quarter of all Asian Oscar winners were crowned in 2020 and 2021).
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Arguably, one doesn’t need a whole study to recognize that whatever change is coming to the Academy Awards is coming very slowly. Amidst the success of Everything Everywhere, it’s been noted that no Black actors were nominated for Best Actor or Actress, and no women were nominated for Best Director.
The Annenberg Center did note that its study did not look at other “historically marginalized communities” that fall under the #OscarsSoWhite umbrella, such as LGBTQIA+ people and people with disabilities, saying, “This is something we plan to do in future analyses, focusing on the acting categories in particular.” Additionally, the study focused only on Oscar winners and nominees and did not look at the diversity of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or the Oscars’ voting body.