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Diversity comes calling at the Oscars this year

As spring settles in over Hollywood, this year’s awards season is getting set for a delayed Academy Awards later this month. If the declining viewership of this year’s Golden Globes is any indication, the Oscars could be in for a tough test, especially after last year’s dismal viewership.

Diversity comes calling at the Oscars this year


The Globes were also plagued by technical glitches, while the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which runs the Globes, faced intense backlash after issues of diversity among its membership and improper payments came to light.

But unlike the Globes, this years Oscars field is being hailed as one of the most diverse. Five years after the movement #OscarsSoWhite railed against the Academy for its lack of representation, could the show be turning a corner?

“We’re heartened to see many of the firsts,” said Tina Tchen, the leader of Time’s Up. The organisation, which was founded to address equity in the workplace after the sexual harassment case against Harvey Weinstein, was outspoken about the lack of diversity at this year’s Golden Globes. Tchen said that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had been working hard to make changes over the past five years, and that it shows.

The differences between the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Academy in terms of approaches to diversity are stark, said Mark Young, a professor at U.S.C.’s Marshall School of Business. While the Academy has grown its voting member ranks to more than 9,000 in 2021 from nearly 6,000 in 2015, Young said, the H.F.P.A. has fewer than a hundred members — many of whom are not journalists, as was originally intended, and none of whom are Black. Coming off the Globes, then, the Oscars field stands apart with several milestones and firsts, broadening the range of storytelling that Hollywood celebrates. Even with new rules and guidelines in place that are not even in effect yet, the Academy has highlighted under-represented communities and stories this year.

And in a year that has been marked not only by the pandemic’s obliteration of theatrical releases, but also with a frightening rise in violence against Asian-Americans, the message of this year’s show is seen by many as hopeful. With the nomination of films like Minari or the recognition of the filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung and the actors Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed, the journey to breaking down those stereotypes, especially of Asian men, is progressing.

The lead and supporting actor categories amount to 20 nominations, so this is nearly half. And of the nine, six nominees are Black actors, after there was only one last year. It’s been nearly 20 years since a man of Asian heritage notched a best actor nomination at the Oscars. This year, there are two — which has never happened. Steven Yeun is nominated for Minari, while Riz Ahmed, a Briton of Pakistani descent, was recognised for Sound of Metal. Chloé Zhao, who directed Nomadland, and Emerald Fennell, who helmed “Promising Young Woman,” scored nominations in a category that has rarely featured women: Before this year, only five female filmmakers had been recognised.

Arora writes about South Asian pop culture for NYT©2021

The New York Times

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