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Year after year, the conversation around mainstream award shows is the same: Where’s the diversity?
Even in a record-setting year like 2023 – which has so far seen Beyoncé become the most awarded artist in Grammy history and the most Asian nominees at the Oscars in a single year – the equity of these shows Questions about commitment remain.
Many have criticized this year’s Academy Awards – which take place on Sunday – for failing to recognize black female talent. The Grammys snubbed Beyoncé for its Herald Album of the Year award, instead awarding it to Harry Styles, in a move that stunned fans and critics alike. And at the BAFTAS, essentially the UK’s Oscars, every winner this year was white.
These mainstream awards are often coveted for both economic gain and industry clout. But even as the public pressures the entertainment industry to increase diversity, some have argued that only incremental changes have been made.
Nancy Wang Yuen, sociologist and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” spoke specifically about the Oscars, saying, “We see more[change]because they don’t want to be criticized anymore.” “But the kinds of changes they’re making are all more than just names.”
Artists of color struggle do not even get recognition
One of the issues facing mainstream awards is how hard it is for people of color to gain recognition.
The last time a woman of color won Best Actress at the Academy Awards was in 2002, when Halle Berry won for her role in “Monster’s Ball” and became the first black woman to receive the honor. In her acceptance speech, Berry dedicated her win to black actresses past and present, as well as “every nameless, faceless woman of color who has a chance now because this door has been opened tonight.”
And that hasn’t happened yet. Excluding this year’s nominees since Berry’s win, only nine women of color have been nominated for the award and none have won. Meanwhile other actresses such as Frances McDormand have won the award twice in the same amount of time.
This year, one of the world’s most famous actresses, Michelle Yeoh, has been nominated for her first Oscar. And if she is declared Best Actress on Sunday, she will create history as the first Asian winner in that category. It took decades for her to receive the recognition of a nomination, and looking back at her upcoming roles, Yuen pointed out that Yeoh is, for the most part, still not playing a lead role.
Yoh has been outspoken about the disparity Asian actors face. During a roundtable in December, she spoke about the difficulty of older women getting interesting roles, citing her experience as an Asian woman.
Yeoh said at the time, “I honestly look up to all of you with so much envy because you get to do all the different roles.” “But we only get that opportunity once in a long, long time.”
If one of the world’s most famous Asian actresses is struggling, Yuen said, how hard must it be for other actors and actresses of color? What Berry and Yeoh have faced is proof of how flawed the system is, he said.
Yuen said, “Even the awards are not enough to address the structural racism and sexism of women of color in Hollywood.”
But barriers against people of color can be found throughout the entertainment industry — not just in film.
Jasmine Henry, professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania, used Beyoncé as an example. Despite becoming one of the most awarded artists at the Grammys, her rate of actually winning the number of times she has been nominated is actually lower than other artists.
Although Beyoncé has won 32 times and received 88 nominations, for example, Adele has won 16 times while only being nominated 25 times – giving Adele a higher win rate. Adele has also won Album of the Year twice from three nominations, while Beyoncé has been nominated in the category four times and has never won.
Henry said, “(The Grammys) honor black artists, but suffice it to say they honored them.” “Not enough to produce truly equitable results.”
Henry said, and many black artists and artists of color are lumped into the R&B or rap music box, thus limiting the categories in which they can be nominated and win.
Drake has been vocal about this. In 2017, when his hit “Hotline Bling,” a song on which he mostly sings, won Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance, Drake explicitly noted that the track was not a rap song.
Drake said in an interview after the awards, “The only category they can fit me in is in the rap category.” “Probably because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black.”
Majority white voting bodies lead to unconscious bias
As to why there is a delay in awarding these mainstream awards and recognizing diverse talent, the answer often lies in the award bodies themselves.
These institutions are usually legacy institutions, Henry said, meaning that people who have participated in the system and industry receive voting rights. For a long time, in many parts of the entertainment industry, this meant that voters were often white males.
Today, most mainstream award shows are relatively secretive about who decides the nominees and winners for each category. Still, many believe his voter demographics have barely changed.
Although the Recording Academy, which presents the Grammys, has made efforts to increase minority representation in its recent classes, Henry said the organization is still considered predominantly male and white.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn’t any better. The Academy does not publicly provide demographic details on its voters, but a 2016 study by the Los Angeles Times found that 91 percent of voters were white and 76 percent were male. Although the Academy has also made efforts to increase diversity among its ranks by electing more women and people of color to its Board of Governors, recent estimates suggest that the organization is still made up mostly of white people and men.
When voting bodies are relatively homogenous, this affects what and who they find eligible to nominate, explained film critic Robert Daniels. Older white voters may be unconsciously drawn to stories they find relatable, which are not always the most diverse stories.
Daniels said, “Most say they vote on what they like, but of course we have to examine why they like that.”
As the public pushes toward more diversity at award shows, such as the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015, many voters are probably aware of the need for more diverse nominations, Daniels said, and may therefore nominate one or two people of color.
But one or two is still an incremental amount. Daniels said that the idea that the majority of nominees could be, or even all, people of color, is not one that most voters are considering. Instead, they can simply check a diversity box with their nomination.
Studios are going to put the most money behind the films they believe have the best chance of earning nominations, Yuen said, which naturally has to cater to voters’ tastes.
“People are going to put a lot of money behind Tom Cruise because they believe in him,” Yuen explained.
But for stories featuring minorities, she said, that may not be the case.
The entire entertainment industry needs to change
However, the award show has made some progress in recognizing minority stories.
Historically, Asian actors in Asian-led films have not been recognized for individual acting Oscars, Yuen said – even if the films themselves receive awards.
She cited 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” 2000’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and 2019’s “Parasite,” all of which were nominated for Oscars in multiple categories, including Best Picture, but the actors involved Zero enrollment was observed for any of the
This year is different. “Everything Everywhere at Once” has been nominated for several categories, and is a favorite to win Best Picture. And the film’s three main actors – Stephanie Hsu, Ke Hui Quan and Michelle Yeoh – are all nominated in individual acting categories as well.
“(The Oscars) are finally recognizing Asian bodies, not just Asian stories,” Yuen said. “There are Asian subjects, actors, talent, that are really embodying these roles and doing it just like any other actor that would normally be nominated.”
Daniel said the issue of representation isn’t just limited to award shows. The entire entertainment industry – including critics, associations and studios – needs to change as well.
He said, “We did this calculation with #OscarsSoWhite and I think one of the problems is that we interpreted that to mean only the Oscars are so white.” “Every level needs to become more diverse.”
He pointed to the Gotham Awards as an example. Daniels said the annual ceremony puts independent filmmakers at the center and each category has a small, diverse, nominations committee, which view eligible films and decide on nominations together. Voting by committee, he said, could help improve diversity at other big awards shows as well.
BAFTA has incorporated this method to some advantage. In an effort to increase diversity among its nominees, BAFTA completely overhauled its process in 2020. As a result, in 2021 and 2022, most of the nominees for the awards were selected by smaller juries rather than by votes of British Academy members only. , BAFTA then saw an increase in representation among its nominees – considered a victory for the British Academy.
But this year, 2023, the group rolled back some of those changes after criticism, instead deciding to split the nominations for each category more evenly between the voters and the jury — meaning both groups selected the same number of candidates.
The nominees were still considered a diverse group. And yet at this year’s awards, all of the winners were white, raising questions about whether the overhaul really resulted in substantive change.
“We are seeing equal opportunities in some respects, but certainly not equal results,” Henry said. “We get stuck in this cycle of slight progress sometimes, and slight regression at other times.”
To have a lasting impact, Henry said the industry needs to go beyond superficial changes and work to rebalance structural issues and partisan bias toward entertainment.
“Combating the deep-rooted issues of racism, sexism and homophobia in the industry will mean re-evaluating not only award categories and systems, but record companies, the film industry, production practices and the industry as a whole,” she said. “It’s a scary ball of yarn to try and find out.”
Unless the industry makes sweeping changes, Henry said, its problems won’t change either.