The nominations to this year’s Academy Awards are more diverse than ever. Coloured actors are being tipped for the Oscar in each major category, while the Best Director category has two female nominees for the first time in history, Chloé Zhao for Nomadland; Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman. There is also a first-ever Asian-American and Muslim nominee for Best Actor Steven Yeun for Minari and Riz Ahmed for Sound of Metal respectively.
The changes in the Academy Awards are in line with this year’s BAFTA, after both awards faced avid criticism for being too white in recent years. Both have changed their membership criteria to include more women and people of colour among their voters to better reflect society and this year’s awards seems to reflect the changes.
But are these changes long-lasting or just an aberration caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic? Experts believe it’s a bit of both.
In a column on Deadline, American actor Dwayne Barnes wrote that the changes are a result of the promises made by the Academy in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2015. That campaign was a result of years of an overwhelming majority enjoyed by white people in the awards.
Back then, a whopping 93% of the Academy’s 6,000 members were white and 76% male, according to AFP. By this year, the women and non-white representation in that group has doubled.
While the #OscarsSoWhite and the #MeToo fallout has certainly gathered steam over the years, prompting higher representation for women across the entertainment industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a different set of challenges altogether.
With theatres shut and big-budget projects – like the West Side Story and sci-fi blockbuster Dune, which are both directed by White men – the industry has faced a crisis like never before.
Sasha Stone, founder of the Awards Daily website, said that the knocking out of other big movies has “left sort of a bare field”, adding that the "pared down selection" of films in contention "happened to be movies by filmmakers of color and women."
The pandemic has also led to the rise of streaming platforms, which has brought to the limelight a lot more diverse slate of films.
The question still remains, whether the Oscars Awards is undergoing a long-term change or if it is just a blip. Only time will tell.