The diversity of the 2023 Oscars: A step in the right direction, but far from perfect

Olivia Brinkman, staff writer

The Oscar Award is one of the highest honors offered in the entertainment industry, but not everyone has an equal shot of winning. Though the Academy Awards have been a family-favorite award show for decades, the show has a long history of bias and exclusion. Historically, the Academy Awards have struggled with representing diverse minority groups, as the majority of nominees and winners have been white men. As the media has grown more and more aware of this reality, the show is attempting to incorporate more diverse movies and nominees; however, the success of these efforts is questionable.

After the 2015 Oscar nominees lacked people of color in all four of the top acting categories, hundreds of angry tweets appeared on Twitter, leading to the emergence of the Twitter hashtag OscarsSoWhite. Oscar nomination statistics correlated with this unrest, as 89% of nominations in the past decade went to white people.

In addition to people of color, the Oscars have been historically biased against women, with only five women ever nominated for the best-director award, and only one winner. Furthermore, women are outnumbered in the acting profession in general, with US statistics showing that roughly 67.5% of actors are male.

This year, many viewers grew hopeful that the Academy Awards’ diversity was improving when Michelle Yeoh won an Oscar in the best actress category. Though her win was a victory for the Asian community, Yeoh was only the second Asian actor to be nominated in the category, previously won by Merle Oberon in 1936. 

In addition, “Naatu Naatu” by M. M. Keeravani won the award for best original song and was performed at the show itself—the first time that a song from India was even nominated for an award. Nevertheless, many people remain deeply frustrated by the lack of accurate South Asian representation and original stars in the live performance of “Naatu Naatu” at the ceremony. The award show claimed that the original stars declined and were replaced in the performance because they were unwilling to learn the Oscars’ version of the song and dance. However, many Oscar critics believe this claim is an untruthful effort to protect the popularity of the show. 

As more and more people have recognized inequity in the Oscars, the award show has been compelled to create inclusion standards for future film nominations. These standards will take effect in 2024, and look to guide the Academy Awards toward a more diverse and equal future. According to these standards, all films nominated for an Oscar must have at least one significant actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or at least 30% of all actors in secondary or minor roles from an underrepresented group. As for the award show this year, some aspects are looking up, but the Oscars still have a lot of work to do.

This piece was originally published in Zephyrus’ print edition on April 20.