The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending shortly before the 2016 Academy Awards as a response to the overwhelming lack of diversity among nominees. Celebrities such as Will and Jada Pinkett Smith decided to boycott the awards show in an effort to make a statement to the Academy: we must honor the women and men of color who have been pioneers in the film industry—an arena that was never meant for them, in which they shine nonetheless.
And now, one year later, it seems as though the Academy has gotten the message. Or has it?
This year’s Oscars, to be held on 26 February 2017, certainly include a more diverse range of nominees; according to deadline.com, “the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences showered nominations on six African-American themed films, at least 10 black actors and filmmakers, and an Indian adventure, Lion, to boot.” Her most recent nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film Fences makes Viola Davis—the black queen who plays Professor Annalise Keating on the hit show How to Get Away with Murder—the first African-American woman to have earned three Oscar nominations. The film Moonlight, nominated for a whopping eight Academy Awards, deals with the intersections of blackness and homosexuality in a way that has never been done before. Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, has racked up three nominations of its own. 2016 was indisputably a glorious year for people of color in the film world.
And this, to me, means a lot. It means everything. As an aspiring filmmaker and producer, as a black woman who hasn’t yet learned how not to dream beyond the realm of practicality, of “do-ability,” seeing this year’s Oscars painted with brown (however small in comparison to the swarm of whiteness) makes my heart warm. It makes my skin tingle. It makes my right-brain dance and my left-brain want to get in on all the action. All of this to say: representation matters.
But is representation the ultimate goal? This question remains for many who are rightfully skeptical of the Academy’s seemingly sudden appreciation for black art. Is the upswing in nominations for people of color simply a cop-out, an “oh, yeah, we heard you, and hey—we fixed it!”? Or are those who run the awards show genuinely acknowledging the power of black films, filmmakers, produces, actors, and actresses? Are they finally giving credit where credit is (past) due?
I suppose the answer is: only time will tell. We’re going to have to wait and see the outcomes of these nominations, as well as the trends of nominations for future awards shows. But fear not, young black and brown and blessed ones:
Regardless of which golden statue ends up in which pair of hands, we are still popping.
We have always been popping.
We will always be popping.
Validation from the Academy is simply icing on the cake—but, of course, our cake tasted damn sweet without it.