During the 2016 Academy Awards season, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended and gained traction. To the disappointment of diversity advocates, nominations came out – white actors, white actresses and white producers – with no significant respite in sight for people of color in Hollywood.
This weekend's 89th Academy Awards, however, left a notable impression on its audiences – and not just because of the Best Picture mishap near the end of the night. The event featured the most nominations for non-white actors and directors since 2007, with people like Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali and Barry Jenkins breaking records and attaining several firsts.
Davis came one step closer to conquering the monumental EGOT – achieved when an actor wins an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony – and Jenkins became the first black man to be nominated for the all of the "big three" awards for filmmakers: Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Ali's performance in "Moonlight" made him the first Muslim actor to take home an Academy Award.
However, even those who were delighted by the sundry voices and faces they witnessed on screen last night remain hesitant to celebrate.
April Reign, the creator of #OscarsSoWhite, told CNN the movement is not over and that the hashtag still has relevance and power. She cited the use of yellowface in new films like Scarlett Johansson's role in "Ghost in the Shell" and Matt Damon's in "The Great Wall." Reign said she believes the film industry still has a long way to go in terms of inclusivity.
"What I've been seeing, unfortunately, in the media quite a bit is…because we've had recognition of black artists and filmmakers this year, that #OscarsSoWhite is somehow over," Reign said. "With respect to cultural appropriation, I think the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has taken a step back in 2016."
Miki Turner, an entertainment photojournalist and professor at USC Annenberg, agreed that progress, when it comes to diversity, can be deceiving and elusive. Turner said people attribute lack of diversity to the wrong obstacles. She pinned the blame for diversity dry spells during some awards seasons on the nepotism and exclusivity rampant in Hollywood, not necessarily blatant discrimination or racism.
"The industry is way more about who you know," Turner said. "I'm old enough to have seen this before. It's very cyclical. It comes around every few years, people complain about there not being enough nominations. Last year was a year in which there were no people of color nominated because they didn't work. I think there was an extra push to get these films out this year to shut people up."
Behemoths like Disney and Fox offer diversity programs to facilitate interest in the film industry among marginalized and low-income youth. But with striking disparity between males and females in the industry, and many firsts yet to be accomplished for POCs off and on the silver screen, the next Academy Awards be more indicative of whether calls for diversity will leave a lasting impression on Hollywood.
"I don't know that you can take this to the bank just yet," Turner said.
Reach Staff Reporter Daniela Silva here.
Corrected Feb. 27 at 5:53 p.m. PT: The story was updated to remove a misleading sentence about the number of nominated films featuring non-white actors and the diversity of the ceremony crowd.