Did you know that there’s an Oscars class photo? Because, until this morning, I didn’t. To use modern parlance, I wasn’t aware it was “a thing”. But it is a thing. Every year, the Oscar nominees get invited to a lunch and, afterwards, they are assembled as if they were a graduating class of an elite high school.
The elite-high-school observation is actually kind of accurate, in that, like an elite high school, the Academy is keen to put everyone they want you to look at in the front row. Remember those school brochures that insisted on putting a diverse mix of children on the cover, and then you visit the school and you realise that the children on the brochure were the only diverse children available? This is a little like that.
See, this is the Hollywood we’ve been hearing about a lot this year. The one that has a record amount of non-white acting nominations, the one that is meant to symbolise that the industry is changing, and rapidly. And there are plenty of reasons to feel celebratory, even triumphant about that – people talk about how difficult it was to get La La Land made (“No one wanted to make my musical!”), but the fact that a movie like Hidden Figures was given the green light and went on to become a huge hit is the true revelation of this year’s awards season. That, along with Fences, Loving and Moonlight, proves that audiences are crying out for diversity in entertainment, and that providing that diversity is both artistically and financially valuable.
And, then, we zoom out a little. And it’s… well, it’s a lot of white people. Mostly male white men, really. Producers, writers, directors, editors – it’s clear that the room is still predominantly a white one. Which isn’t necessarily a surprise, but is certainly striking when placed in the context of a class photo. Film isn’t the only industry to suffer from this kind of see-saw equality – where one side of the industry seems diverse and highly visible, but the major stakeholders are still white men – and virtually everything creative seems to share the same problem. The same goes for music; you think, “Well, I can name quite a lot of black musicians, so racism must not be a problem,” when the reality is that almost all the music executives on Billboard’s Top 100 list are white.
So, while the Best Actor categories at this year’s Oscars are cause for celebration, it is a reminder that there still is work to be done within the industry. And that, unless we have more writers, directors and producers of colour, films like Hidden Figures may always be the exception – when they should be the rule.