RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Oscars diversity doesn’t mean everything all at once
A multicultural country works a bit like a kindergarten classroom.
March 21, 2023 - 9:01 pm
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is never going to take home the Oscar for most diversity.
The academy always comes up short, and nowhere is that more clear than with its shoddy treatment of Hispanics.
Even in 2023, a paltry number of roles go to Hispanic actors. In 2021, the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative looked at 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2019. It counted the Hispanic actors and characters with speaking parts, as well as the Hispanic directors, producers and casting directors. At a time when Hispanics account for nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population, 40 percent of the population of California and nearly 50 percent of Los Angeles County (where the film industry is based), only about 6 percent of characters in speaking or named roles were Hispanic.
African Americans and Asian Americans also struggle for recognition. Yet according to the Annenberg report, in 2019, when it came to time on screen, Hispanics trailed all other groups. And when they are on screen, Hispanics are often cast in stereotypical roles. More than one-third of the lead Hispanic actors in the biggest movies of 2019 played criminals, the report said.
Show some respect, Hollywood. Hispanics have the highest per-capita cinema attendance among all racial groups or ethnicities in the country, according to a 2019 report from the Motion Picture Association.
It’s no wonder that #OscarsSoWhite trends on Twitter every awards season. The hashtag was born in 2015, when the academy — operating in what was obviously a massive blind spot — awarded all 20 acting nominations (five nominations in each of four categories) to white actors.
Acting is a form of art, and thus judging it is subjective. But what are the odds that white people would sweep the acting categories? Better than you might think, considering that the same thing happened in 2016.
Like their counterparts in academia and media, the folks in Hollywood are simply not as enlightened as they pretend to be on matters of race and ethnicity. The film industry is still run by the same people who created it: white men. In 2023, you’ll find women, Latinos, African Americans and members of the LGBTQ community in the academy. But it’s still white men who, for the most part, call the shots.
Still, there will always be those in the media — which operates in a blind spot of its own — who are eager to tell the Hollywood story sunny side up.
The day after this year’s Oscars, an NPR host gleefully declared that the winner at the 2023 Academy Awards was “diversity.” After all, she noted, Blacks, whites, Asians and members of the LGBTQ community were all represented on the roster of Oscar recipients.
Good on them. But did NPR not notice that one of the colors in the rainbow was AWOL? With the exception of a few A-list Hispanic actors who made announcements or presented statuettes (Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria, etc.), that ethnic group was nowhere to be seen. This fact didn’t escape writer and comedian John Leguizamo, who turned to Twitter to criticize the lack of Hispanic nominees.
Having acknowledged that the Hollywood “brownout” is real, I have a message for my fellow Hispanics: Stay calm. It’s OK. This was not our year. Win some, lose some. And, now that the 2023 Academy Awards are behind us, we need to be happy for the winners.
It’s not like Hispanics haven’t been to the winner’s circle before. From 2014 to 2019, a trio of Mexican directors — nicknamed, what else, “the Three Amigos” — dominated the best-director category. Alfonso Cuarón won an Oscar in 2014 and 2019. Alejandro González Iñárritu in 2015 and 2016. And Guillermo del Toro picked up his Oscar in 2018.
This was an exceptional year for Asian Americans, fueled by the science-fiction comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Michelle Yeoh made history as the first Asian American to win an Oscar for best actress. Ke Huy Quan — who came to the United States as a refugee — won for best supporting actor. And, with his co-director, Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan won for best director.
Latinos — and all Americans — should be proud of that. A more inclusive country makes for a better country, and that benefits everyone.
A multicultural country works a bit like a kindergarten classroom. One of the first rules is that you have to share. And sometimes, what you wind up sharing is the spotlight.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.