Hollywood can be a bubble, an insulated space where reality is scripted and sometimes even fantastical. Still, its cultural productions, especially film, can have an indelible impact on those who watch.
As Lin-Manuel Miranda said on the Academy Awards red carpet on Sunday, film is important because “it showed me worlds I never knew were possible.”
“It exposed me to cultures I never would’ve otherwise seen,” added Miranda, who was nominated for original song for “How Far I’ll Go” (from “Moana”) but lost to “La La Land.” “It transported me beyond my small neighborhood in uptown New York. I’m standing here because I saw ‘The Little Mermaid’ when I was 10 and it changed my life.”
The 2017 award season has been marked by unprecedented discussion about Hollywood’s values and its reflection, or lack thereof, of the broader country. It comes on the heels of two years during which the film academy nominated all white actors, prompting the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
This year, the Oscars nominee pool was diverse by historical standards, with seven actors of color nominated in the top categories and at least four films about people of color in the best picture race (including the surprise winner, “Moonlight”). Among those nominees were actors Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight,” who won for supporting actor, and Dev Patel of “Lion” and the films “Fences” and “Hidden Figures.”
Such diversity surely is a better representation of the vastness of this country and moviegoers worldwide, and it’s “proof positive” what the industry can and should look like when it’s operating at its full potential, said Barry Jenkins, nominated for directing and writing “Moonlight.”
Roger Ross Williams, nominated director for the documentary “Life, Animated,” agreed.
“Film has to reflect the world,” he said on the red carpet. “We’re a diverse world and a diverse country. In this political climate where diversity and difference is looked down upon by the administration, by the president, it’s important that we have a voice that includes us all.”
Williams then challenged the academy, himself a member of its board of governors, to “fill the gap.”
“It’s not coming from the White House or Washington, [D.C.].” he said. “It must come from Hollywood.”
And though a ceremony like the Oscars, held at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, might itself seem unnecessary, it too is vital, all in the name of diversity and representation.
“To celebrate this art form that is so influential is a good thing,” said David Oyelewo, a presenter for the evening. “It gives people an opportunity to be aware of films that they otherwise wouldn’t, smaller films that are made for smaller budgets, ‘Moonlight’ being a case in point. A film made for $1.5 million, if it didn’t have this kind of recognition, probably a lot less people would see it.”