Change for the Good

America is part of a global multi-racial community whether the insurrectionists of Jan. 6 like it or not.

This is a fact and it’s not going to change.  Ever.

Get used to it!

If anything, thanks in part to social media and social revolution, we are only going to get more multi-racial and more global.

Despite all the bellyaching from those preferring to benefit from our traditionally white, male heterosexual power structure.

Numbers don’t lie no matter how many times those doing their best to suppress the truth tell us a fork is actually a spoon…or a salad bowl.

If you want to put politics aside, and who doesn’t right now, one way to consider just how much things have changed is to look at this year’s Oscar nominations.

Huh? Chairy?

Flee, a mostly animated movie that tells the harrowing story of a young gay Afghan refugee’s nail biting escape from his war-torn country, was nominated for best documentary, best animated feature AND best international film.

That’s a first.

OK… good start

Japan’s Drive My Car received four nominations, including breakout ones for best picture and director, and Norway’s The Worst Person in the World nabbed an unexpected screenplay nod aside from the one it got for international film.

In the acting categories, four people of color received nominations (down from last year’s record high of nine).  But among those are top contenders like Will Smith in King Richard and Ariana DeBose in West Side Story, both of whom are favored to win in their categories.

Bonus points for the openly queer nominees!

Though before we start to believe we’ve truly toppled the Oscar Confederacy and, in turn, the international Confederacy of straight white, American maleness (Note: Don’t worry guys, we still want to include you always), here’s a very brief recent history of Oscar numbers to chew on.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences began a real diversity push in earnest more than five years ago when #OscarsSoWhite became a shameful international hashtag due to the lack of diversity among that year’s nominees and winners (Note: Not a single Black actor was nominated in either 2015 or 2016 in any of the 20 possible slots).

But this had a great deal to do with the voting members in the Academy.  At that time 92% of the membership was white and 75% was male. 

You know… him

After a push to recruit a more diverse membership, these days approximately 84% of the members are white and 16% are non-white.  Its female membership also increased to more than 32%.

The statistics among new members are a lot better.  For example, of the 819 new people who became Oscar voters in 2020, 45% were women and 36% were people of color.

If the Academy keeps going at this rate, who knows, it might not even be news when a woman receives a nomination as best director (Note: Jane Campion actually became the first female in history to be nominated twice in that category this year for The Power of The Dog, following last year’s nomination and win for Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), the first female POC to be so recognized).

Yes queen!

Though it still might break a few insurrectionists hearts when Ava DuVernay or use your imagination finally, finally, FINALLY gets their turn at the podium.

Still, we digress.

The real story of this year’s Oscar contenders, and inevitably surprising winners, really lies in the number of new international members welcomed into the Oscar voting fold during the last five years.  For a deeper dive, check out these stories in the Hollywood Reporter, Vox and Slate:

But if you want to truly understand the slow but steady shifting tide of one of our top entertainment cultural signifiers – the Oscars – and, in turn, all the kicking and screaming and spitting up from Fox News watchers– here is one simple way in.

The membership of the Academy has swelled to just about 9400 active members in 2021 compared to the 6261 it had in 2016.  That’s a 47% increase.

Consider me intrigued…

But even more interesting is that a significant portion of those new members came not only from a minority population but from outside the U.S. 

In 2022, more than 25% of all Academy members (nee voters) are from countries other than America, vs. a mere 12% just six years ago.

This gives deeper meaning to what Oscar-winning writer-director Billy Wilder was famously quoted as saying to the cameraman on one of his movies way back when: 

Shoot a few scenes out of focus.  I want to win the foreign film award.

Closeups remained in tact, Norma, don’t worry.

Now I love Billy Wilder as much as the next movie fan, perhaps even more.  But he was speaking at a particular place and time.  And as a European immigrant who embraced the style of American cinema while helping to significantly redefine it with lacerating wit, strong characterizations and unrelenting social commentary.

The Academy these days has wisely decided, though long overdue, to actively move forward from his now somewhat provincial, though still cringingly funny, dated point of view.

Its slow, somewhat steady embrace of international cinema (Note: Starting with South Korea’s Parasite best picture win in 2020), as well as its recognition of various minority and female viewpoints among this year’s nominated crop of films and members, is a welcome change and, yes, love overdue.

Meryl approved

And though I clearly can’t be sure, I’d bet, as an immigrant, even Wilder would fully endorse it.

Because ironically, when you think about it, it’s just about the most American thing the Academy, in its new and present form, can do to move the industry and the culture forward.

Evolution vs. insurrection.

Sebastián Yatra – “Dos Oruguitas” (from Encanto — Disney’s first Spanish language song nomination, second in the history of the Oscars)

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