Oscars History: How The Academy Awards Likes to Talk about Race (And How it Doesn’t)


By Ittai Sopher PZ ’19
Political Correspondent

Baffling filmmakers, “Green Book”, a movie accused by many of portraying outdated narratives about race relations, won the Academy Award for Best Picture on Sunday.

Spike Lee, the filmmaker who won his first Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category that night for “BlackKKlansman”, and Jordan Peele, who won Best Original Screenplay last year for “Get Out” were among those astonished. According to the Associated Press, Lee tried to exit the theater when Julia Roberts announced “Green Book” had won, while Peele refused to clap.
“Green Book”’s win is not surprising given that The Academy Awards are obsessed with history. Five out of seven of the films nominated for Best Picture this year are period pieces. 11 out of the 20 acting nominations this year are for actors playing real-life individuals.

Historically though, the black cast and crew of these movies are mostly snubbed by The Academy. Today, Halle Berry remains the only Black woman to win Best Actress in a Leading Role for her role in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball”. In addition, only four Black actors have won the Best Actor in a Leading Role award. So far, no black directors have won Best Director. The #OscarsSoWhite movement protested this lack of diversity after The Academy only nominated White actors during the ceremonies held in 2015 and 2016.

For behind the scenes work though, the 91st Oscars presented black women with the most awards to date, with Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler taking home the prizes for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design, respectively, for their work on the superhero film “Black Panther”, which also featured a mostly black cast.

“Only three black women have won Oscars for anything other than acting,” journalist Kyle Buchanan wrote on Twitter. “Two of them just happened tonight.”

Lee credited The Academy’s recognition of black crewmembers to the #OscarsSoWhite movement in a press conference backstage. “Without April Reign, #OscarsSoWhite … I wouldn’t be here tonight,” Lee said referencing the activist who started the hashtag in 2015. “They opened up The Academy to make The Academy look more like America — it’s more diverse.”

Another cost of the Oscars preferential treatment to period pieces is that the Academy ignores movies that tackle social issues from a contemporary perspective. “Blindspotting” followed Collin Hoskins (played by Daveed Diggs), a black man on probation in gentrified Oakland, Calif., who is afraid to face the consequences of speaking out against a police murder that he witnessed. The movie was met with critical praise, garnering a 94 percent rating on RottenTomatoes, yet was not nominated for any awards at this year’s Oscars.

As my brother pointed out in a conversation over-the-phone, “Blindspotting” even deserved a nomination for Best Original Song, for one scene, which contains the best spoken-word poetry that I have ever witnessed. I won’t spoil the movie, but anyone who has seen it knows what I am talking about.

Don't Miss