In 2015, there wasn’t a single actor or actress of color nominated in the Academy Awards’ acting categories. The normalcy of that exclusion encouraged April Reign to simply tweet “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.” Since then, Reign has worked to make the Oscars—and the film industry at-large—more inclusive of people from marginalized communities. Her goal, as she told The Los Angeles Times in 2016, is to “push this issue until there is [such] a wealth of marginalized communities represented in film and entertainment that it no longer needs to be discussed.”
Since 2015, Moonlight has won Best Picture, though there was a horrid snafu that robbed the film of its moment; Viola Davis won her first Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a stirring role in Fences; and Mahershala Ali won his first Best Supporting Actor award for his turn as Juan, the drug-dealer-with-the-heart-of-gold in Moonlight. Yet, the work of #OscarsSoWhite is still not done.
Ninety years after the first Academy Awards celebration, Hollywood is still celebrating firsts, a clear sign that inclusion is a long, intentional, and sustained road that will require the filmmaking system to shift. Latinx and Asian people are still on the outside looking in when it comes to having the resources, the support, and the funding to create films that are rewarded by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences. LGBTQ folks and people with disabilities are still being portrayed by people who aren’t members of their communities. Despite this slow walk toward inclusion, the 90th Academy Awards presented moments that illuminate what could be if Hollywood embraced and allowed older people, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and other traditionally underrepresented folks to tell their own stories.
1. Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph made a pitch to host the 2019 Oscars—and get their own movie.
The Oscars snubbed Tiffany Haddish. Despite her breakout role as Dina in Girl’s Trip, the Academy didn’t see her humor as worthy of a nomination. Somehow though, Haddish still stole the show. Maya Rudolph and Haddish were a match made in comedy heaven. Since their feet were hurting, they chose to kick off their heels and wear more comfortable shoes. Haddish paired her Uggs with the same Alexander McQueen dress that she wore to the Girl’s Trip premiere and Saturday Night Live. They also cracked (actually) funny jokes about the continued whiteness of the Oscars. Their electric chemistry has many of us asking the same question: Can Haddish and Rudolph host the 2019 Oscars?
2. Jordan Peele became the first Black director to win best original screenplay.
Get Out was a cultural phenomenon when it was released on February 24, 2017. After accruing $255 million at the domestic and foreign box offices, spawning catchphrases that are easily recognizable (e.g. the sunken place), and earning Jordan Peele acclaim for his vision of a white supremacist horror film, the horror-film-that-could rounded out its success with an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. With his win, Peele became the first Black writer to earn the honor.
His powerful speech also inspired a new generation of writers to keep pushing, even when they want to give up. “I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it wasn’t going to work,” he said in his acceptance speech. “I thought it was impossible. I thought no one would ever make this movie. But I kept coming back to it because I knew that if people let me make this movie then people would hear and see it. I want to dedicate this to everyone who raised my voice, and let me make [it].”
3. Coco won Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature Oscars. Mexican culture also got a much-deserved shoutout.
Coco is an incredible film that follows Miguel, a 12-year-old Mexican boy who travels to the Land of the Dead to learn more about his family’s troubling history. Though Disney-Pixar got off on rocky footing with the movie by trying to trademark Día de los Muertos, they corrected their wrong by listening to Mexican creators and activists, and celebrating a culture rather than trying to commodify it.
During their speech for Best Animated Feature, the movie’s director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson specifically thanked Mexicans and made the case for the importance of representation for children. “Coco would not exist without your endlessly beautiful culture and traditions,” Unkrich said while accepting the award. “With Coco, we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies who look, talk, and live like they do. Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”
4. Guillermo del Toro racked up awards, though Emma Stone tried to stop his shine.
Guillermo del Toro is officially an Oscar-winning director! The Mexico-born filmmaker accrued a number of awards for The Shape of Water, a fantastical film about a mute woman who falls in love with a human-sized fish. Toro won Best Director while the movie won Best Picture, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design—not bad for a film that was nominated for 13 awards.
Though Toro is an immigrant, and The Shape of Water deals directly with alienation borne from difference, Emma Stone—who played a Hawaiian woman in Aloha—deemed it appropriate to say the Best Director category only had one (white) woman nominee. Intersectionality for the win, right? Toro was unphased, as he showed in his acceptance speech. “I am an immigrant,” he said. “And in the last 25 years, I’ve been living in a country all of our own. Part of it is here, part of it is in Europe, part of it is everywhere. Because I think the greatest thing that art does, and that our industry does, is erase the lines in the sand when the world tells us to make them deeper.”
5. Robert Lopez became the first double EGOT winner.
When Robert Lopez won an Oscar for Best Original Song for “Remember Me” from Coco, he became the first person to EGOT (win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) twice. There are only 12 members in the coveted EGOT club, including Whoopi Goldberg and Rita Moreno, but none have achieved what Lopez has been able to. Lopez previously won an Academy Award for “Let It Go,” the catchy tune from Frozen; two Daytime Emmys for Wonder Pets; three Grammys for Book of Mormon, Frozen, and “Let It Go;” and three Tonys for Avenue Q and Book of Mormon. He was also the youngest person to EGOT.
Talk about making the rest of us feel inferior.
6. Activists joined Common and Andra Day onstage for a performance of “Stand Up for Something.”
Marshall, a biopic about the early life and career of Thurgood Marshall, only netted one Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. “Stand Up for Something,” an ode to the power of activism, is the perfect song for this moment: It calls attention to a number of issues, including sexism, xenophobia, and racism, and encourages us all to empower ourselves and each other through policy. However, it just wasn’t the lyrics that made Common and Andra Day’s performance of the song special: They were joined onstage by a number of activists, including Janet Mock, Tarana Burke, Bana Alabed, Dolores Huerta, Patrisse Cullors, and Cecile Richards.
“If it’s one thing I learned from being a part of Selma is that, an activist is someone who lives their life for what they believe in and works for that cause everyday,” Common told The Los Angeles Times before the performance. “The activists we asked to join us onstage are people who have dedicated their lives to making the world better. For some because their own personal experiences have driven them to this place, and some because they’ve seen the injustices going on in the world and felt they had to take action.”
7. Keala Settle brought down the house with her emotional rendition of “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman.
Body diversity is rarely discussed or centered in conversations about inclusion in Hollywood. That’s clear as thin presenter after thin presenter graced the stage and the red carpet, showing us all that the thin ideal is still clearly entrenched in Hollywood. Actress and singer Keala Settle, who costarred in The Greatest Showman as Lettie Lutz, shook that up when she graced the Oscars stage to perform “This Is Me.” As she sang, her arms showing without fear and her tattoos glistening, Settle cried. The emotion laced in the song about body acceptance brought the entire audience to its feet.
8. A Fantastic Woman made history by winning Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars.
A Fantastic Woman is a stirring Chilean drama about Marina (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman who is fighting with her partner’s family after he dies. When it won Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars, it became the first movie to win an Oscar about a transgender person that starred an openly transgender woman in the lead role. When she later took the stage to introduce a performance of “Mystery of Love,” a song from Call Me By Your Name, Vega offered an empowering message about acceptance. “Thank you so much for this moment,” Vega said. “I want to invite you to open your hearts and your feelings to feel the reality, to feel love. Can you feel it?” Yes, we can.
9. Frances McDormand made a critical pitch for inclusion riders.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a mess, but somehow, the Academy thought it was worthy of multiple nominations and two of the best acting awards. Sam Rockwell won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for portraying a racist and corrupt cop in an incompetent police department. Frances McDormand, who carried the movie, won the Best Actress Oscar, and used her speech to push for inclusion in Hollywood. She asked all of the women nominees to stand, so she and the rest of the room could applaud them, and then implored her fellow actors to ask for an inclusion rider in their contracts.
The inclusion rider was introduced by Stacy L. Smith, director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, in a 2014 column for The Hollywood Reporter. It allows onscreen talent, particularly actors, to include a stipulation in their contracts that requires sets to have a certain percentage or amount of workers from marginalized communities. McDormand endorsing the inclusion rider after winning a Best Actress Oscar will surely encourage other folks in Hollywood to include the provision in their contracts.
10. Who cares about age? Everyone.
When 53-year-old Sandra Bullock stepped on the Oscars stage to present the Best Cinematographer award, she asked to have the lighting adjusted. “Wow, it’s bright,” she said. “It’s really bright. Guys, the set looks amazing, everything looks really great. The lighting is really well lit, but can we just dim it just a little bit so I can go back to my 40s?” It was a quip on Hollywood’s ageism, as actresses are pressured into embarking on an elusive quest to capture, bottle, and harbor youth. She wasn’t the only actress focusing on age as a barrier to success in Hollywood.
Best Actress winners Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren graced the stage together, an 80-year-old and 72-year-old who are still working in a business determined to shut them out. By simply being present and highlighting the obvious erasure of older women in Hollywood, Bullock, Fonda, and Mirren illuminated the problem—and will hopefully push the filmmaking business to evolve.
11. Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani took a stand for immigrants.
“We are the two actors you keep hearing about but whose names you have trouble pronouncing,” Nyong’o, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2014, said as she stood beside Nanjiani while presenting the Best Production Design Oscar. “Like everyone in this room and everyone watching at home, we are dreamers. We grew up dreaming of one day working in the movies, dreams are the foundation of America.” Nanjiani, who was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for The Big Sick finished by saying, “So to all the Dreamers out there, we stand with you.”
Dreamers, we are all standing with you. We will fight for you. And so will some of Hollywood’s biggest names—hopefully.