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After Controversy, 2017 Oscar Nominees Reflect Major Strides in Diversity

By / Jan 24, 2017 Best actress nominee Ruth Negga. (Eric Galliard/Reuters)

This time last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was struggling with a controversy with its own hashtag: #OscarsSoWhite. This year’s nominees, announced Tuesday, reflect much greater diversity.

With its record-tying 14 nominations, La La Land may be the movie at the top of the nominations for this year’s Oscars, but what many observers are talking about is the nominees’ significant boost in diversity.

In a shift from last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which arose after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) nominated only white actors in the major acting categories for the second year in a row, every major acting category in the list of 2017 nominees includes actors of color—in the case of supporting actress, three of the five nominees are black. Entertainment Tonight notes that it’s the first time black performers were included in all four acting categories.

Additionally, four of the nine best picture nominees—Lion, Fences, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures—featured diverse casts, and diversity was also well reflected among filmmakers nominated in a variety of other categories.

What changed? In part, the makeup of the Academy. Last year, AMPAS announced a strongly diverse class and made a long-term commitment to membership diversity.

“We’re going to just keep going,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said last year. “When you set a goal, you really want to set a high one. Otherwise, what’s the point? This is a process we’re continuing until 2020. And we won’t stop then, either.”

Some observers, like Deadline Hollywood’s Michael Cieply, noted that the initiatives are likely too new to explain the dramatic jump in diversity among nominees. Instead, he suggested the #OscarsSoWhite backlash encouraged studios to improve their diversity in filmmaking.

“In truth, Hollywood has changed a great deal in the last year; but what media types like to call The Narrative has clearly shifted, as the current crop of nominees once more aligns the film business with its professed commitment to inclusiveness and progressive ideals,” he wrote.

The African-American Film Critics Association, which spoke up against a boycott of the ceremony last year, applauded the trend.

“The African-American Film Critics Association is totally thrilled with the record-breaking number of nominations earned this year by actors and other creative artists of color,” the group’s president, Gil Robertson IV, told NBC News. “The AAFCA applauds the Academy’s efforts, and we hope that their progress continues to reflect America’s rich diversity.”

AMPAS isn’t alone in its effort to improve diversity. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which puts on the British equivalent of the Oscars, announced a dramatic overhaul of its member diversity rules late last year.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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