Although the Oscars may have been dominated by Will Smith dramatically slapping Chris Rock on stage — the Academy, this year, awarded several firsts in a step towards making the Oscars more inclusive.
The Academy has been previously criticized for being ‘too white’ and not reflecting the diversity within the film industry. Let’s have a look at several academy firsts and what they mean for diversity on the silver screen.
Ariana DeBose makes history as the first openly queer woman of colour to win an Oscar
In a massive step forward for diversity, Ariana DeBose won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the Steven Spielberg-directed remake of West Side Story. In the film, she plays the key role of Anita, the girlfriend of Sharks leader Bernardo.
DeBose is only the second Latina woman to win an Oscar and the first queer woman of colour.
“You see an openly queer woman of colour, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that is, I think, what we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said during her acceptance speech following a standing ovation.
Tony Katsur becomes the first deaf man to win an Oscar
For his role as Frank Rossi in CODA, Tony Katsur took home the trophy for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He is only the second deaf actor to ever win an Academy Award following his CODA co-star Marlee Matlin who won Best Actress in 1986 for her performance in Children of a Lesser God.
“I can’t believe I’m here. Thank you so much to all members of the Academy for recognizing my work,” Katsur said during his acceptance speech, “It’s really amazing that our film, CODA has reached out worldwide.”
“I just wanted to say that this is dedicated to the deaf community, the CODA community, the disabled community. This is our moment!” he added in support of the disabled community.
Riz Ahmed becomes the first Muslim actor to win Oscar for Best Short Film
British actor Riz Ahmed won the Oscar for his role in The Long Goodbye directed by Aneil Karia — Riz Ahmed was nominated for Best Actor in 2020 for his role in Sound of Metal becoming the first-ever Muslim nominated for the award.
“This is for everyone who feels like they don’t belong. Anyone who feels like they’re stuck in no man’s land. You’re not alone. We’ll meet you there. That’s where the future is. Peace,” Ahmed said during his acceptance speech.
Jane Campion becomes the first woman to be nominated twice for Best Director
Jane Campion took home the Oscar for Best Director for her film The Power of Dog and in the process became the first woman to be nominated for the award twice. Previously she had been nominated for her 1994 haunting drama The Piano which lost out to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.
She is only the third woman ever to win Best Director at the Oscars.
Overlooking the onstage antics, this Oscars was arguably the most diverse in history, a far cry from 2015 when all 20 acting nominations went to white actors. As the Oscars grow to be more and more inclusive one can hope that the Academy continues to break boundaries without some of the distractions seen on the stage this year.