Oscars diversity improved after #OscarsSoWhite, study shows. But glaring gaps remain
News flash: Hollywood is still disproportionately white and male. But a new USC study shows that while the Academy Awards remain stubbornly resistant to change in many categories, gains in inclusivity have been made in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite.
The study released Wednesday by USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative found that nominations among underrepresented racial or ethnic groups and women increased after 2015, when activist April Reign created that viral hashtag.
Looking at the eight years before and after #OscarsSoWhite, the USC study found that 8% of nominees between 2008 and 2015 were from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. In the post-#OscarsSoWhite era between 2016 and 2023, that number increased to 17%.
In the eight-year period prior to #OscarsSoWhite, women represented 21% of Oscar nominees; the study shows that number jumped to 27% in the eight years following.
When April Reign started using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on Twitter last year, she didn’t know that it would become the massive rallying cry for increased diversity that it has.
The data signal positive change for the Oscars in the aftermath of #OscarsSoWhite, although the academy is still far from achieving parity across the 19 categories examined by USC Annenberg researchers.
Even with the Asian- and Asian American-led “Everything Everywhere All at Once” poised to make history at this year’s 95th Oscars, films with Black leads and directors were shut out of the nominations entirely, no actors of color broke into the lead actor category and no women were nominated for best director.
While the study found notable changes in 16 of 19 examined categories, three — editing, sound and visual effects — showed no notable change in nominees from underrepresented communities. And none of the categories examined in the study reached proportional representation on par with U.S. population demographics.
The 2016 Academy Awards nominations were announced Jan. 14, and for the second year in a row all acting nominees were white.
Still, USC’s Stacy L. Smith credits the viral hashtag — created by Reign as acting nominations after all four categories went to white performers for the second year in a row — with sparking change.
“When April Reign unleashed #OscarsSoWhite, she tapped into the collective desire for change and the outrage that people felt at seeing actors of color excluded once again from this career-defining award,” said Smith. “This comprehensive look at the Oscars demonstrates that exclusion was normative for many years and still is in many categories. But it also shows that there is power in collective action, and that energy has ensured that the years since #OscarsSoWhite do not look like the years that came before.”
The findings are part of a larger USC Annenberg research initiative mapping demographics across nearly a century of Oscars history, examining 13,253 feature film nominees dating back to the first Academy Awards in 1929 by race/ethnicity, gender and category.
Nominee race/ethnicity and gender identity were determined using online references, photographs and direct confirmation when available. While other marginalized communities were not examined in the study, USC researchers plan to break out future analyses on Oscar nominees who identify as LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities.
The wider look at the academy’s racial/ethnic history shows that white nominees have outnumbered nonwhite nominees 17-to-1, with Hattie McDaniel breaking the barrier in 1940 as the first person of color to win an Oscar for her supporting turn in “Gone With the Wind.”
Dubbed the Inclusion List, the data are accessible to the public and present an intersectional look at both the recent advances and lingering failures of inclusion in Hollywood’s top award.
Further boosting its diversity, the film academy invited 819 new members Tuesday, including Awkwafina, Olivia Wilde, Lakeith Stanfield and Cynthia Erivo.
The 95-year survey found that over the history of the Academy Awards, only 6% of nominees have been people of color. From the inaugural Oscars to this month’s 95th ceremony, 17% of all nominees have been women. Women of color represent just 2% of total nominees.
In the directing category, women have been nominated only eight times and won three times. Four of those nominations (Greta Gerwig for “Lady Bird,” Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman,” Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland” and Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog”) occurred after 2017.
Breaking the comprehensive Oscars data down by race/ethnicity, the study shows that Black nominees represent 1.9% of all nominees and 2% of all winners from 1929 to 2023, across 253 nominations and 57 winners.
Hispanic and Latino nominees account for 231, or 1.7%, of all nominees and 57, or 2%, of all winners. Three filmmakers — Alejandro Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, who are all Mexican — account for 17% of all Hispanic/Latino Oscar wins.
A new report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. indicates that most of the burden of representation has fallen on Black talent and creatives.
Asian nominees constitute 2% of all nominees and 1.7% of all winners across 229 nominations and 47 wins. 2023 marks the highest number of Asian nominees in one year — 20 — thanks in large part to “Everything Everywhere All at Once’s” 11 nominations. Twenty-three percent of all wins by Asian nominees happened over two years, 2020 and 2021.
Nominees of Middle Eastern/North African descent make up 0.4% of nominees and winners (49 nominees and seven winners).
Even fewer Indigenous people (0.14%, or 19) have been nominated for an Oscar, with only three winners in 95 years.
“The results here demonstrate the impact that even hashtag activism can have to move institutions, to make exclusion a crisis worthy of public debate, and to create change for marginalized communities. The danger now is in believing that the problem is solved and lapsing into complacency,” the study concludes.
Visitors to the Inclusion List website can access the study’s data and participate in an interactive poll open through March 12 of who should win at the 2023 Academy Awards.
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