Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Oscars highlight lack of equality for women and multiracial artists

Janelle Monáe performs at the Oscars 2020
Janelle Monáe and Billy Porter perform at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Story at a glance

  • Singer Janelle Monáe referenced the lack of diversity in nominees in her Oscars performance.
  • This theme was echoed by many other presenters.
  • The international film “Parasite” earned a historic win

Sunday’s boisterous 92nd Academy Awards Ceremony shone the spotlight on a slew of veteran and up-and-coming talent alike. Last evening at the Dolby Theatre, Janelle Monáe led the commencement of the event. Emerging from a set decked out like the humble home of Mr. Rogers, the performer gave a classy, flashy parody on Fred Rogers’ nostalgic ditty “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

For those who were listening closely, Monáe’s altered lyrics reflected the current state of many of mainstream Hollywood’s award nominations. Specifically, the singer called out the show for not being diverse enough. Following Monáe’s stellar opener, many other award presenters and winners took the opportunity to further address the issue.

Introducing the audience to the ceremony were Chris Rock and Steve Martin, who came on and took a few cracks at the historical and perpetuated racism within the moviemaking industry. Within their dialogue back and forth, Martin suggested that the Oscars have evolved over the past nine decades.

“Back in 1929, there were no black acting nominees,” Martin stated.

Beaming with sarcastic enthusiasm, Rock fired back: “And now in 2020 we got one!”

Rock had appeared in last year’s Netflix production of “Dolemite Is My Name,” a comedy with a black protagonist and supporting cast. While it did moderately successful at the Critics Choice Movie Awards, the film was not nominated by the Academy. Instead, its Netflix contemporary, “The Irishman” — helmed by veteran director Martin Scorsese — garnered great attention at the Oscars.

While “Harriet,” the moving biopic on Harriet Tubman, former-slave-turned-abolitionist, was considered for several awards, it did not win any. However, the film’s star Cynthia Erivo got to perform the original song “Stand Up,” which was featured in “Harriet.” Yet the biggest success of African American cinema of the past year that was celebrated at the Academy Awards was “Hair Love,” winner of the Best Animated Short Film Award.

Accepting the awards for “Hair Love” were Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver.

“Hair Love was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation,” Cherry said during his acceptance speech. “We wanted to normalize black hair.”

Cherry happens to be the second former athlete to have achieved an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, the first being Kobe Bryant for “Dear Basketball” (2018).

“May we all have a second act as great as his was,” Cherry spoke fondly of the late basketball star. Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven other individuals, was killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26. During Billie Eilish’s performance of “In Memoriam,” Bryant was one of the deceased celebrities to be commemorated.

While the Academy Awards seemed to dismiss many African American talents this year, it was quick to show appreciation of foreign filmmaking industries, particularly through the lauded reception of the Korean drama “Parasite.” The movie took home a whopping total of four Oscars.

International films are nothing new to Hollywood. American cinematographers and movie companies have been working with other nationalities for the vast majority of Hollywood’s existence. Such relations have produced significant productions such as “La Strada (1954), which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and the ongoing “Gojira franchise.

To receive honorary recognition in Hollywood has been a dream come true for Bong Joon Ho, the director of “Parasite.” In a few hours, the director made cinematic history; the movie won Best International Feature Film, making it the inaugural South Korean production to be nominated and win the award.

Bong Joon Ho, along with co-writer Han Jin-won, became the first Asian nominees to achieve the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In addition, the Guinness World Records has included “Parasite” among the record-holders for an international feature film.

The Academy Awards also highlighted international relations in another respect with its bestowal of Best Feature-Length Documentary on “American Factory.” The documentary gives its viewers a glimpse into the transformation of a former General Motors factory in Dayton, Ohio, into a revamped Fuyao-run industrial plant. The film focuses on international relations and the social culture being merged between the Chinese and American employees. Workplace unity, despite differences, is an ideal which comes across rather potently in the movie. It is unity that leads to growth and development.

“American Factory” was yet another one of the past year’s Netflix releases. The film’s production company, Higher Ground, is owned by Barack and Michelle Obama. This marks the first Academy Award for the production company of the former POTUS and FLOTUS.

Amid all the international success and social discourse involved within the Academy Awards, women comprised the primary success in the area of musical talents. While many were disheartened that female directors had been utterly overlooked, the majority of nominees for Best Original Song went to women songwriters and vocalists. Ultimately, however, this award went to Sir Elton John for “I’m Gonna Love Me Again.”

Despite this, other musically inclined female artists who swam against the current of mainstream Hollywood prevailed in alternate categories. For instance, Hildur Guðnadóttir became the first woman in more than two decades to have won an Oscar for Best Original Score, beating other nominees in the running, such as John Williams.

In an inspirational close to her acceptance speech, the composer encouraged her audience in saying, “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters, who hear the music bubbling within, please speak up. We need to hear your voices.”

Likewise, Renée Zellweger, who starred in the biopic “Judy,” when she won the award for Best Actress, said that her achievement was no less than an extension of the appreciation of Judy Garland’s musical and acting talents — talents that will never be forgotten.

Perhaps the climactic moment of the evening came in Joaquin Phoenix’s emotional acceptance speech for the Oscar for Best Actor. His phenomenal work on “Joker” was appreciated by critics and moviegoers alike. The film endeavored to peer into the growing cruelty of society and address how such a society effectively undermines itself.

It was just such an invective culture and the discrimination produced in an atmosphere like that which Phoenix, in trembling tonality, addressed in his speech. He said:

“I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with and ungrateful, but so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of community.”

In conclusion, as if suggesting the ultimate cure for the world’s troubles, he added, “When he was 17, my brother [the late River Phoenix] wrote this lyric. It said, ‘Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.’”