Representation in Award Shows is (Slowly) Improving
BY TIFFANY VALKOVA '25
The largest stages around the world—Hollywood, London, and Los Angeles—are utilized for the grandest nights of the year. Although awards shows are plagued by a history of racism and discrimination where predominantly white men reign supreme, they are beginning to incorporate more diversity and talent by altering their voting board system and acknowledging injustice to promote change.
For decades, women and people of color were brutally underrepresented in award shows; voting boards solely chose white nominees. In 2015, when all twenty nominations in acting awards were given to white actors and actresses, the “#OscarsSoWhite” scandal deluged the media and ignited change. After this controversy, various Academies recognized the harmful process for nominations. In a 2016 Los Angeles Times study, research showed that 91% of voters were white in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; this statistic showcases the underrepresentation of people of color. To reverse the effects of discrimination and to increase diversity, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) incorporated a system where small juries replaced individual voter committees, providing more opportunities for marginalized groups to get nominated. Despite this step to create progress, the BAFTAs this year only saw white winners and were met with intense backlash. The public raised doubts about the legitimacy of each change and questioned whether they were improving from a moral standpoint or just to quiet the critics. Although years of denial and ignorance have resulted in ineffective solnew strategies are being implemented to create wider accounts of representation; people are finally holding award shows accountable for their lack of diversity and are utilizing social media to rally against discrimination.
Recently in 2023, Beyonce set a new record as the recipient of the most Grammy awards. Furthermore, her achievements this year surpassed the previous titleholder of the most Grammy awards. Similarly, Angela Bassett’s loss of Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars brought up questions about powerful contributions to their field being disregarded and handed to white nominees. The principles behind the Academies’ decisions forced people to once again consider the progress made, and whether it is contributory enough to be even deemed as progress or just a temporary fluke. Was Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once worthy enough to be deemed the Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, or was subtle racism present once again? Ultimately, the media raised these concerns, and awards shows responded by recognizing the injustice.
On another note, Michelle Yeoh made history as the first Asian winner in the Best Leading Actress category. Asian representation at the Academy Awards soared this year, showcasing nominees and winners in numerous categories such as Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and others. Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen explains that, “[The Oscars are] finally recognizing Asian bodies, not just Asian stories. There are Asian subjects, actors, talent, who are actually embodying these roles and doing it just as well as any other actor that is typically nominated.” The sheer increase in numbers in several categories showcase the increased representation. Additionally, movies produced by people of color, such as Moonlight (2017) and Parasite (2020), were awarded with the honor of Best Picture Oscars. Minority groups have clearly made immense progress towards being recognized for their achievements.
The overarching intentions of award shows have been diluted throughout their existence, focusing on the material gain from white achievements rather than true talent derived from other minorities in the entertainment industry. Although underrepresentation is still a pertinent issue, award shows have strengthened their efforts in promoting equality. Slowly but surely, the Academies are continuing to bring forth a brighter future for both award shows and society as a whole.