As we transition into the hot summer months, I am looking forward to taking refuge inside cool air-conditioned movie theaters. To me, there isn’t a much better pastime than slipping into someone else’s story for a little while. Movies can create a window into another world or hold up a mirror to show us a reflection of a part of ourselves. But many people still don’t see themselves represented in film, especially not in the films that get the most attention and awards. Women and people of color haven't been recognized for their work. That's what makes the 2021 Academy Awards historic. This year we saw a change.
The Academy Awards started in 1929. This is the first time in almost a century that two women directors were nominated for best director and only the second time that a woman has won in that category. Director Chloé Zhao’s win for the movie Nomadland is also historic because she is the first woman of color to win this award. Nomadland also won best picture, “the first best picture winner ever to be totally focused on women.”
There were other historic firsts as well. Steven Yeun is the first Asian American actor to be nominated for best actor for the film Minari. Youn Yuh-jung won best supporting actress for the same film, the first time a Korean actor has ever won an Oscar. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson were the first black women to win an Oscar for costume design and makeup for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
So why does it matter? I don’t personally buy into the glitz and glam of award shows, but being awarded an Oscar has a lot of benefits including name recognition and accolades. Winning an Oscar leads to more work for actors and film studios. Lack of diversity in the winners leads to lack of diversity in which movies are being made.
What's causing the change? Though the Oscars have come a long way since Hattie McDaniel, the first black woman to win an Oscar, was forced to sit separately from her peers and costars, there is still a long way to go. A recent Twitter campaign #OscarsSoWhite drew attention to “the fact that 92 percent of top film directors were men and 86 percent of top films featured white actors”. Among those working toward making media more inclusive, is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. This organization is focused not only on inclusion, but on how diverse groups are represented in film.
As of 2019, there were nearly double the number of men reviewing movies than women. Women review more films directed by women than men do. Men tend to review movies with female leads less favorably than women do. Research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film has shown that this has a proven effect on the types of films that are receiving attention. One of the main reasons that people go to see films is if they are well reviewed. It's not enough to make more diverse movies if they aren't getting the attention of movie-goers. The more movie-goers seek out unique and ground-breaking movies the more likely we are to see those movies celebrated in the way that they should be.
Obviously, we can’t go to the movies every day. Luckily for all of us movie lovers, Harris County Public Library gives us free access to the movies we love and books about them! You can log in to the Kanopy website with your library card number and PIN to stream documentaries, award winning films, and more! And you can always search the HCPL website for new movies, to lose yourself in someone else's story for a little while.