Film & TV

Has Hollywood learnt its lessons?

The #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo movements certainly helped to bring Hollywood’s failings to light, but, with this year’s awards season under way, Yasmin Begum asks, has anything actually changed?

In 2015, writer and activist April Reign coined the term #OscarsSoWhite with a tweet reading “#OscarsSoWhite, they asked to touch my hair” causing the tweet to go viral. It’s still popular, but three years on, to what extent has racial equality been achieved in Hollywood?

The Academy has publicly promised to double the number of women and black and minority ethnic members. This year’s nominations are a nod to #OscarsSoWhite, but the cohort of nominees were still overwhelmingly white and male, with members of colour being statistically underrepresented in the Academy.

The issue of ethnic representation is just one of several popular focal points for discussion that have emerged over the past few years. The #MeToo movement, for example, took centre stage at the 2018 Oscars. Less than six months after revelations about Henry Weinstein broke, actresses Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd took to the stage while presenting an award to talk about their experiences, with Judd ending her speech by announcing “Time’s Up!”.

One memorable moment of the 2017 Oscars was Warren Beatty incorrectly announcing La La Land as Best Picture. One star of the true victor, Moonlight, will also be at this year’s awards, as Mahershala Ali is nominated for Best Supporting Actor his role in Green Book. A huge talking point during this year’s awards season, the film looks at the relationship between classical musical virtuoso Dr Don Shirley (Ali) and his Italian-American driver, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) as they drive through the American South for a series of concerts in the 1960s. However, late Dr Shirley’s family are not happy with the film, claiming it is an inaccurate portrayal of his relationship with Vallelonga, and shows him to be more distant from his family than he actually was.

A favourite for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars is Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek, who is nominated for Best Leading Actor. However, allegations have recently come to light over sexual assault by director Bryan Singer on the set of the film, with young men coming forward in an exposé published by The Atlantic. Though he was replaced on set, with Dexter Fletcher stepping up to the plate, the Director’s Guild of America regulations stipulate that Singer is still the credited director. Therefore, if he wins, the award will go to him and not Fletcher.

Four years after #OscarsSoWhite, and a year and a half after #MeToo, films like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody continue to come under attack for facilitating issues that have long dogged Hollywood. Whilst an increasingly diverse American demographic is being slowly represented from the bottom-up in film and TV – with more people of colour employed as leads, directors and producers – there are clearly still problems. This year, no female directors were nominated at the Oscars, prompting calls for better representation, although there’s only so much work that can be done in less than five years.

The lack of women and ethnic minorities in institutions such as the Academy is a structural and institutional issue. It exists through years of concerted efforts to keep out these groups, and there’s a deficit that must be addressed. At the height of #OscarsSoWhite, black membership of the Academy was at 2%, whilst African-Americans make up 14.1% of the USA’s population. Even though membership has doubled since 2015, this figure still isn’t enough to reflect the American population at large. Power structures need to change to reflect the diversity of film, or else we are in danger of conversations on race and gender in films becoming just another box-ticking exercise.