Hollywood is not an easy place to affect change. As a result of social inequality, white actors and filmmakers have long saturated the Hollywood film industry, resulting in a lack of diversity in productions.
In 2017, there may be reason to believe that greater racial diversity will figure in Hollywood. With the nomination announcement of the eighty-ninth annual Academy Awards set for Tuesday, January 24, several of the films slated to be shoo-ins feature previously unheard voices whose stories have been told.
Expected to be a frontrunner in nominations is Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins. This coming-of-age tale follows Chiron, an African-American boy dealing with life in the rougher parts of Miami while trying to come to terms with his sexuality.
The film is divided into three stages of Chiron’s life: “Little,” “Chiron,” and “Black,” which follow his life as a young boy (Alex Hibbert), a teenager in high school (Ashton Sanders), and an adult (Trevante Rhodes), respectively. With the help of Juan (Mahershala Ali), a father figure of sorts to Chiron, and Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland), his only friend while growing up, the protagonist struggles to find a way to fit into expected cultural norms in this beautiful and devastating story.
Another film with bright prospects is Fences, directed by Denzel Washington, which is a screen adaptation of the play by August Wilson. Set in the 1950s, this story follows Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), an African-American father who works in garbage disposal after having failed to become a professional athlete.
Living with his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo), Troy struggles with aggression towards his past and the injustice that has followed as a result of discrimination. Troy’s obsession with his past often causes him to be unable to move forward.
Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, is also at the centre of Oscars buzz. The film is based on the true story of three individuals who played crucial roles in NASA’s mission to send the first man to space — all of whom are Black women.
Empire’s Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, the brilliant mind who made momentous revelations in calculating the trajectory that would succeed in sending John Glenn (Glen Powell) around the earth. The film also depicts the stories of Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who successfully fought for a promotion to become an aerospace engineer at NASA, and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), who successfully learned to program a data-processing computer before any of her male predecessors could.
All of these films share relatable stories that centre around Black protagonists; recognition of movies such as these is long overdue. Last year’s Academy Awards saw controversy around the lack of racial diversity in the nominees, resulting in the viral social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.
Host Chris Rock himself addressed the controversy during the awards show itself, proclaiming, “You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist, but not the racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.”
However, evidence of a shift in this attitude was certainly demonstrated at this year’s Golden Globes. Even with an astounding seven wins for La La Land, Black filmmakers were also widely recognized with many nominations and one win for Moonlight, in addition to recognition of Davis’ moving performance in Fences.
Still, discrimination in the film industry is rife. Outrage ensued on social media when Aaron Taylor-Johnson won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Nocturnal Animals over Ali from Moonlight. Taylor-Johnson’s performance wasn’t even expected to receive an Oscars nomination this year, making his win particularly surprising. While performance is subjective, the extent of the public’s discontent speaks volumes. While it’s hard to know whether the Oscars will follow suit, Moonlight is expected to be a definite leader in the nomination count, which will likely spur some audience-approved wins.
Regardless of Tuesday’s nominations announcement, films such as these are bringing attention to the narratives that audiences have been deprived of for so long.