Oscars heading in more diverse direction after two years of #OscarsSoWhite

Benjamin McKnight

Over several months, reviews and controversy have saturated the depths of social media with the black films Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Fences. Hollywood has taken a nod to these three films and has finally upheld them to the 89th Academy Awards.

Not only was this the first time in the last two years where a person of color was recognized for an Oscar nominee, but they were also mentioned in every acting and movie category. Denzel Washington was nominated for best actor leading role Fences, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer both received nominations for best actress supporting role in Fences and Hidden Figures, respectively, and Mahershala Ali received his for best actor supporting role in Moonlight.

“It is great to see a year where more diversity is making it to the screen and hopefully it is a trend that we see more inclusions in the Oscar nominations.” said David Warfield, assistant professor in the SWAN program at Morgan State University

Moonlight is a chapter based film that depicts the life and experiences of a black male who is grappling with his own sexuality. Despite the stereotypical must of being raised by a single black mother who is struggling with drug abuse, the film beautifully shines light on the topic of homosexuality; a sensitive subject in society but most definitely a taboo in African-American culture. Director Barry Jenkins began Moonlight as a low-budget film of $5 million but ended up making more than three times that in the box office.

“When we look at Moonlight, it is a common thing now where you see different distribution companies involved; pulling different resources,” Warfield said. “[The] recipient of the script and champion of the script is called Plan B Entertainment. The company is owned by Brad Pitt and he also played a part in 12 Years a Slave. As an actor, he has the power, in a sense.”

Hidden Figures pushes the boundaries in both race and gender through an untold story about intelligent African-American women who served as essential tools to NASA by being the brains of their operation. The story focuses on Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, women who surpasses any stereotypical cliche watermarked by Tyler Perry. It easily received positive promotional feedback due to the double whammy of displaying intelligent protagonist who are both women and black.

According to Warfield, “When it comes down to it, we know that the Hollywood system is male dominated and white dominated. Recently, there has been a lot of advances for women; especially at the studio executive level. There are women who now run 2 to 3 of the major studios now.”

A pipeline of new opportunities unfolded the evening of the Oscars. Disregarding the onstage LaLa Land incident at the awards, the Oscars 2017 undeniably turned a leaf and shined light on black films; thanks to help of Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis, Moonlight and Fences got their recognition. For Moonlight to outshine Hidden Figures was a huge statement in itself considering that Hidden Figures was more of a commercial film and, unlike Moonlight, wasn’t exclusive in theaters.

“I was very pleased to see that some exceptional writers, actors, and directors were recognized by their peers,” said writer, producer, and content creator, Tim Reid “I’m not surprised because I know the work ethic of the directors and actors who put their work into Moonlight.”

The 2017 Oscars, according to Reid, was beyond race and age. It was based on quality of the work and everyone that was involved in the creative process could execute exceptional content that surpassed mediocrity.

Mahershala Ali won best supporting actor, Viola Davis earned best supporting actress, and Moonlight took home best feature film that night.

“I think Viola Davis said it better than anybody in an award show,” Reid proudly said in regards to Davis’ speech at the show. “‘The job of the people in our industry – the content creation and entertainment business – we have a unique opportunity more so than any profession, regardless of any race, creed or color; and that is to tell the stories of lives of people that have often been overlooked.’”