Commentary: Academy reform or COVID?


History was made at the 93rd Academy Awards on Sunday as Yuh-Jung Youn and Chloé Zhao, two women of color, took home Oscars, Youn for best supporting actress and Zhao for her direction of “Nomadland.” Youn is the first Korean actress to be nominated, as well as the first Asian actress since 1957 to win the prestigious film award, while Zhao is the second woman ever to have received the Oscar for best director.
The members of the Academy select its winners from five \nominees for individual categories such as best actress and best actor. However, the increase in racial diversity in this year’s winners compared to previous ones raises questions about the pandemic’s effect on the film industry and with it, the nominees chosen.
Because most viewers, including the Oscar voters, saw movies in 2020 via streaming rather than at theaters, this may have allowed more attention to be focused on niche film categories, or less mainstream motion pictures made by persons of color.
The Academy has quite a history of controversy regarding lack of diversity. Before this year, out of the 3,140 statuettes that have been given out since 1929, only 274 cinematic works created by and featuring women have received the prestigious award, and 32 of people from an ethnic minority have been awarded an Oscar. Two years ago, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite blew up on social media, targeting the voting board for their lack of representation in nominations and winners.
Whenever there is a diversity, however, race-baiting and classification become the main discussions rather than a celebration of the winner’s achievement. This has been made an even bigger deal with the Academy planning to enforce a diversity quota to ensure that underrepresented groups are given inclusion in the prestigious award in the future.
Media outlets reporting on director Chloé Zhao’s win called it a “major win” and dubbed Zhao as the first “woman of color” to receive an Oscar for best director. Last year, the film Korean film “Parasite” won multiple Oscars, including best picture, best director, international film, and original screenplay. Despite this, none of the film’s actors were nominated in any of the acting categories. Both of these events have become quite major controversies; “Parasite” for its continued lack of acknowledgement of Asian actors, and Zhao, for the selective way the media chooses to synonymize the term “person of color” with Asians.
Regardless, this year’s ceremony was a major victory for underrepresented groups. The novel faces of the Oscars shows the significance of fighting for equality and the positive changes it brings. Many see this as a one-time success for minorities and women, but with the precedent this year’s ceremony has set, the depreciated communities still have a fighting chance even as 2021 films may once again be white-dominated.