IMPACT OF#OscarsSoWhiteat the Oscars®Examining whether the prevalence of underrepresented nomineesand winners has changed over time
The History of #OscarsSoWhite
In January 2015, April Reign hit send on a tweet that would reverberate around the world: “#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair.” The tweet was a reaction to the lack of a single nomination for a person of color in any of the four acting categories that year. The hashtag served as a match to the kindling laid after years of seeing very few or no nominations for people of color at the Academy Awards.® The rebuke was clear.
Our goal in this section is to determine whether and how #OscarsSoWhite has created change in terms of underrepresented winners and nominees. To do so, we examine the nominations and wins for people of color in the 8 years since #OscarsSoWhite was launched (2016-2023). We compare those figures to the 8 years prior (2008-2015).The results are clear: there have been notable increases in nominations for people of color across 16 of 19 categories examined– this is 84% of the categories assessed. Additionally, the overall percentage of underrepresented nominees more than doubled. The largest gains occurred in the categories of Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Documentary Feature, and Best Actor. In each of these categories, nominations increased by at least 14 percentage points. However, it is important to note that the gains for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay are largely due to the substantial increase in underrepresented men rather than underrepresented women. This is a consistent problem across the industry. Three categories exhibited no significant change: Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects, but all experienced upward trends.Despite these gains, none of the categories have reached proportional representation in terms of nominations. According to the U.S. Census, roughly 40% of the U.S. population identifies with an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. The closest the Academy has come is the 37% of nominees for Best Song or the 31% of nominees in Best Documentary Feature. Notably the figure for Best Song under indexes relative to the presence of underrepresented artists on the popular music charts and represents a stereotypical domain. The change observed has been notable but has certainly not occurred at a breakneck pace, as there were years in the post-#OscarsSoWhite era when certain categories had no nominees of color. Even in 2023, there are no actors of color nominated in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role.#OscarsSoWhite also focused on other historically marginalized communities– namely, those who identify as LBTQIA+ and people with disabilities– and it is important to understand whether there has been progress in these areas. This is something we plan to do in future analyses, focusing on the acting categories in particular. Still, the results here demonstrate the impact that even hashtag activism can have to move institutions, to make exclusion a crisis worthy of public debate, and to create change for marginalized communities. The danger now is in believing that the problem is solved and lapsing into complacency. As long as activists and advocates continue to shine a spotlight on the lack of people of color at the Oscars,® there is hope that change will continue to occur, and at a much faster pace.