Amidst the glittering and fantastical sets onstage at the Dolby Theatre this year, something else seemed to shine bright at the 90th Academy Awards—talks of diversity and inclusion. Three years after the #OscarsSoWhite campaign began, and the more recent cries of #MeToo and #TimesUp, is Hollywood finally listening? Turns out, the answer is sadly a bit more complicated.
The night certainly did feature moments to applaud. In terms of nominations alone, Greta Gerwig, director of Lady Bird, was the first woman to be nominated for Best Director in eight years—and is one of only five to be nominated ever. Rachel Morrison also earned recognition as the first ever female cinematographer to be nominated by the Academy for her work on Mudbound.
But neither women walked away with awards. Gerwig’s Lady Bird, competing in five categories, won nothing. And when it came to wins for women, the actual ceremony was rather abysmal. Only six women left with Oscars—two of which were for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress—while 33 men took statuettes home. As a result, this year’s ceremony took the prize for lowest number of female winners at the Academy Awards in the last six years—quite a large step backwards in an era of women pushing for more recognition.
Outspoken female presenters, however, still stole the show. During one pivotal moment, Salma Hayek Pinault, Ashley Judd and Annabella Sciorra—all women who had accused Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct—stood together to introduce a short documentary on the trailblazers in the film industry working for representation, and gender and racial equality.
“This year, many spoke their truth, and the journey ahead is long, but slowly a new path has emerged,” Sciorra began, her voice full of emotion. “We salute those unstoppable spirits who kicked ass,” Hayek Pinault added, “and broke through the biased perception against their gender, their race and ethnicity to tell their stories.” Judd then declared: “We will work together to make sure that the next 90 years empower these limitless possibilities of equality, diversity, inclusion, intersectionality. That’s what this year has promised us.”
The women’s statements, along with the documentary which featured actor Mira Sorvino commending #MeToo and #TimesUp for giving people voices, looked to be deeply empowering—and they were. But considering the ceremony went on to award Kobe Bryant for the animated short Dear Basketball and Gary Oldman for Best Actor in Darkest Hour, the Academy’s embrace of those movements also felt slightly hollow. Both men have serious abuse accusations in their pasts—Bryant in 2003 was charged with sexual assault and Oldman in 2001 allegedly assaulted his wife with a telephone in front of their children. And even before the event began, Ryan Seacrest, recently accused by a personal stylist of years of sexual assault, worked the red carpet. When exactly is time up for those three men?
Other moments in the evening continued to champion the marginalized. Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani, who both immigrated to the United States, took a stand for Dreamers. “Dreams are the foundation of Hollywood, and dreams are the foundation of America,” Nyong’o asserted. To a burst of applause, Nanjiani then added, “To all the Dreamers out there, we stand with you.” There was also Daniela Vega, star of the Best Foreign Language Film winner A Fantastic Woman, who became the first openly transgender person to present at the Oscars. Vega, with a smile on her face as she introduced musician Sufjan Stevens’s performance, simply stated, “Thank you so much for this moment.”
In another segment, rapper Common and singer Andra Day similarly encouraged activism with their performance of the nominated song “Stand Up for Something,” during which they brought onstage a diverse array of movement leaders—Alice Brown Otter, of Standing Rock Youth Council; Syrian refugee and author Bana Alabed; Bryan Stevenson, of Equal Justice Initiative; Cecile Richards, of Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Dolores Huerta, of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and the United Farm Workers of America; Janet Mock, of #GirlsLikeUs; José Andrés, of ThinkFoodGroup; Nicole Hockley, of Sandy Hook Promise; Patrisse Cullors, of Black Lives Matter; and Tarana Burke, of #MeToo.
And despite women’s overall low numbers in awards, there still were a handful of landmark wins. Coco, Disney-Pixar’s film set in Mexico around Día de Muertos, won Best Animated Feature, with the film’s co-director Adrian Molina proudly declaring that “marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.” Get Out, which took home Best Original Screenplay, marked writer and director Jordan Peele as the first ever black screenwriter to earn an Oscar. And two of the night’s biggest awards—Best Director and Best Picture—went to Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water. As del Toro, born in Mexico, explained in his speech, “I am an immigrant … The greatest thing our industry does is to erase lines in the sand. We should continue to do that.”
Those calls for further change in Hollywood were also reiterated by Frances McDormand, who perhaps garnered the most attention from the Oscars with her Best Actress speech for Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. She not only called on all the other female nominees to stand up to recognize their talents, but then she urged the producers in the room to support female-led projects. “We all have stories to tell and projects we need financed,” she said. “Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days, or you can come to ours, whatever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them.”
McDormand concluded her speech with two words—“inclusion rider,” a reference to the stipulation in contracts that actors can include so as to require a certain amount of gender and racial diversity within a film’s cast and crew. That phrase sent Google into a flurry—and effectively captured the hushed-over fact that even more work needs to be done by the Academy and Hollywood to reach true diversity and inclusion. After all, women made up only 18 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers on the 250 top-grossing domestic films in 2017, a number that hasn’t really changed in the past 20 years. Within the plots, female characters comprised only 24 percent of protagonists in the top 100 films last year—with women of color only comprising 32 percent of all female characters.
Clearly, more effort will be needed to change the tides. With awards season officially over, and filmmakers returning back to their craft, now is the time for Hollywood to really examine its power structure and not pretend that the hard work is already done. If this year’s Oscars were any indicator, a lot of critical success can be found in films not found on the familiar path.