The underlying problem of the 93rd Academy Awards

Published April 26, 2021, 3:27 PM

by Rom Mallick

What was intended to be a celebration of ‘movie love’ has become a caricature of diversity and inclusivity

The Oscar statue from the 2018 Academy Awards. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP)

The 93rd Academy Awards stands out among all the Oscars before it. To loosely borrow from a favorite phrase of Apple’s executives, “It’s the best Oscars yet.” Or is it? Many celebrate the awards for its supposed inclusivity, judging by how diversified this year’s list of nominees and winners are. Commendable, truly, except that it was somewhat forced.

Remember that the rules for a film to be nominated for the Academy Awards were changed to become more inclusive, to allow for more diversity. But that’s just it, isn’t it? If something has to be included in some rule or another, it loses its awesomeness. It becomes more a matter of compliance than, say, a matter of principle. In this sense, there is nothing inclusive about the 93rd Oscars. It was all part of the rules.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the winners of this year’s Academy Awards are not to be celebrated. Quite the contrary, they should even be more lauded. “Minari,” which was among the films that received several nominations, is a truly remarkable film with a fantastic cast. Although I have not seen “Nomadland,” I have read reviews about the film and it seems rather promising. That Chloé Zhao is now the first woman of color—and the second woman, after “The Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow won in 2010—to win best director at the Oscars is certainly worth celebrating. One cannot, of course, dismiss the fact that this all happened at a time when Asian hate is prevalent in the US, which somewhat turns Zhao’s win into a political statement more than what it should truly be: a recognition of her expertise in her craft.

‘Nomadland’ filmmaker Chloé Zhao won best director (AFP)

That is the thing, though. Whenever some award-giving body or institution slaps these recognitions and puts the “color” part in it, in the hopes of appearing inclusive or honoring diversity, it simply emphasizes the “otherness” of people of color. Of course, this is all necessary at the moment, with the way “otherness” is emphasized in society, (never mind that the entire world is currently enduring a pandemic, regardless of ethnicity, color, nationality, or whatever such factor that defines one as an “other”).

It is safe to assume, perhaps, that the hope is for people of color to be recognized simply as people. Instead of giving people of color recognition for their art, isn’t it more of a disservice to focus on them being people of color more than being a talented artist? After all, in the world of the arts, where you come from doesn’t matter as much as the work that you bring forward. Sure, background plays a role in the development of an artwork, be it a painting or a poem, a sculpture or a song, a play or a film. This is, of course, assuming that the viewer has any idea of the background of an artwork’s creator. Most of the time, when you view a painting or watch a film, you are oblivious to who the creator is. You’re there to simply enjoy, unless of course you did some homework and research on the painter or filmmaker beforehand or you did a quick Google search right there and then.