It was thrilling to see diversity in this year’s Oscar winners. The finale ruined it.

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Swoon-worthy moment Riz Ahmed fixed wife’s hair on Oscars red carpet

Riz Ahmed pauses on Oscars red carpet to fix wife Fatima Farheen Mirza’s hair.

Staff video, USA TODAY

See what happens when diversity and inclusion aren’t just words, but actions?

At Sunday’s 93rd annual Academy Awards, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to win best director, for “Nomadland” (which also won best picture). Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) and Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) clinched the supporting actor races. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first Black women to win in makeup and hairstyling, for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

These wins made the major awards at the end of the night all the more shocking: The best actor and actress races didn’t go to actors of color that many prognosticators had expected: Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis,  for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Instead, they went to Anthony Hopkins for “The Father” and Frances McDormand for “Nomadland.” 

Hollywood has been working to fix its track record on inclusion. The emotion in Sunday night’s Oscars speeches indicated how impactful wins can be for the communities that diverse winners represent, how thrilling they can be to watch – and how devastating it can be for them to miss out, yet again.


Oscars 2021: Chadwick Boseman snubbed, Frances McDormand howls

From Daniel Kaluuya shocking his mom to Glenn Close’s dance to Frances McDormand’s howling tribute, we break down the big moments from the Oscars.

Entertain This!, USA TODAY

It’s easy to see a list of nominees and winners and marvel (or scoff at)  diversity. But it’s more important to listen to the words of underrepresented voices when they’re given the chance to hold the coveted golden statue.

Daniel Kaluuya, who won best supporting actor for his role as Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter in “Judas,” made sure to thank the man he played, who was assassinated in 1969. “Thank you for your light. … Thank you so much for showing me myself,” he said.

In case you missed it all: Oscars 2021: Anthony Hopkins shocks as best actor, ‘Nomadland’ wins best picture

Zhao spoke about growing up in China during her acceptance speech, and how she keeps going when things get hard. She recalled a game she played with her father. “We would memorize classic Chinese poems and texts and we would recite it together and try to finish each other’s sentences,” she said in her speech.

Consider, too, Neal’s acceptance speech for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which acknowledged the glass ceiling she broke along with Wilson – and her hope for a more diverse future. “I can picture Black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters and our Latina sisters and Indigenous women, and I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal,” she said.

And then there was Youn, who gave us this gem of a callout to the film’s executive producer (and the award’s presenter) Brad Pitt: “Mr. Brad Pitt, finally nice to meet you! Where were you when we were filming?”

It was a welcome slate of winners compared to previous years for most of the night – especially since the #OscarsSoWhite fiasco of 2015 and 2016, when all 20 acting nominees were white, not to mention years of nominations snubs that inspired outrage. But one year – even if Davis and Boseman had won – is hardly enough evidence that Hollywood is changing its ways for good.

The Academy’s choices this year indicated its diversity efforts behind the scenes might be paying off, which it foreshadowed with its diverse slate of nominees: Nine of the 20 acting nominees were people of color. Time will tell if this was a one-off, given that the coronavirus pandemic  led studios to withhold bigger movies that might’ve made for stiffer competition for nominations. 

The full winners list: Oscar winners 2021: See the full list of who won at the Academy Awards

The film academy has worked to diversify its membership to include more women and people of color. But it remains overwhelmingly white and male. As of 2020, just 33% of active members were women (up from 25%, in 2015) and 19% were from underrepresented racial or ethnic communities (up from 10% in 2015).

Imagine many other speeches we could have heard over the years from all different kinds of people if they had been given the opportunities to act, produce, write and direct in the first place.

And Hollywood is still losing $10 billion each year due to its lack of diversity, according to a recent McKinsey report.

People of color in front of and behind the camera are worthy of your attention. Academy voters may think they can rest on their laurels, and feel less pressure for next year’s batch of nominees.

But they would be wrong.

More on Chloé Zhao’s historic win: Chloé Zhao, 39, is the first woman of color to win best director Oscar for ‘Nomadland’


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