Eight years have passed since the #OscarsSoWhite movement took over social media as a response to the lack of diversity among nominees and winners. The movement's intention was to call on The Academy to stop honoring only white people and to recognize the achievements of diverse artists.
However, the 95th Academy Awards showed us that history is still being written. Another year, another wave of historical firsts has made immense strides for the award show.
Unveiling the Biggest Film of the Year with The Biggest Stars
The most critically acclaimed and award-winning film this award season was "Everything Everywhere All At Once," distributed by A24. An independent film company, A24 has produced many stellar films with nominations and awards across the Golden Globes, British Academy Film Awards, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and were the top-nominated independent studio of 2023, with 18 Oscar nominations across six films.
The biggest win of the night was for Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian to win in the lead actress and actor category and just the second woman of color to receive the award. During her acceptance speech, Yeoh recognized the impact of this honor by saying, "Thank you. Thank you. For all the little boys and girls who look like me, watching tonight, this is the beacon of hope and possibilities. This is proof that dreams, dream big and dreams do come true. And ladies, don’t let anybody tell you you are ever past your prime. Never give up.”
Even Yeoh knew that this was history in the making, paving the way for Asian actors and creatives who follow. She is an inspiration to many, especially aspiring Asian actors. This gave Yeoh the encouragement and excitement for this moment in her career for both the diverse opportunities she has had and what it means for other Asian actors who follow behind her.
Her co-star, Ke Huy Quan, took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "Everything Everywhere All At Once." He became the first Vietnam-born person to win at the Oscars in the history of the award show. As he accepted his award, he told the audience, "My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I ended up here, on Hollywood’s biggest stage. They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening to me. This is the American Dream.”
The emotional acceptance brought tears to many in the audience. He finished his speech off by saying, "Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine. To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.”
His inspiring Hollywood comeback is one for the books. Featuring in "The Goonies" and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" in the 1970s and following with work on "Head of the Class" and starring in "Encino Man," work then dried up. He didn’t act for two decades as a result of the lack of demand for Asian actors. However, after seeing the 2018 film "Crazy Rich Asians," Quan felt inspired and eventually auditioned for "Everything Everywhere All At Once" - well, and the rest is history!
Reshaping How Culture is Represented
The film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was nominated for five different categories but only won one. Ruth Carter, an African-American costume-designing icon, won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for her work on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. She had previously won the same award in 2019 for her work on the first Black Panther, making her the only Black woman with two Oscars. Proud of her identity, Carter shared this sentiment during her acceptance speech, “Thank you to the Academy for recognizing the superhero that is a Black woman. She endures, she loves, she overcomes. She is every woman in this film. She is my mother.”
When starting the design process, Carter knew she wanted to surpass the first film in terms of scale and quality. She said, "I felt like it was a great story of women and how we can be non-traditional. We can be aesthetically fashionable. We can be off-center sometimes, but also very centered. We can be vulnerable with our arms and our skin exposed and complicated but beautiful." In her acceptance speech, she told the audience, “Together, we are reshaping how culture is represented.”
Carter was a single mother with a dream. She wanted to be a costume designer, so she studied, scraped, and dealt with adversity in the industry. After winning the award, she told the press, “This win opens the door for other young costume designers who may not believe that this industry is for them.”
Highlighting Indigenous People and Animals
The Elephant Whisperers, a documentary short film that follows an orphaned baby elephant named Raghu, became the first Indian-produced film to win an Oscar. The film beat some tough competitors in its category, and director Kartiki Gonsalves said, "Thank you to the Academy for recognizing our film and highlighting Indigenous people and animals. To Netflix, thank you for believing in the power of this film.”
The documentary showcases the story of Bomman and Bellie, an indigenous couple who dedicate their lives to caring for an injured, orphaned elephant. Through this heartwarming display of animal conservation, viewers can witness the precious bond formed between humans and animals. The Prime Minister of India has praised the film for "wonderfully highlighting the importance of sustainable development and living in harmony with nature.”
By bringing attention to the stories of indigenous people and their culture, the film allows us to follow the valuable story of animal conservation and understand the significance of love and compassion. Bomman and Bellie are members of the Kattunayakan community, who have been working to protect the forest for generations. This Oscar-winning film is being celebrated by people all over the world as it raises awareness of pressing environmental issues.
Going Viral on Social Media to Winning an Oscar
"Naatu, Naatu", an upbeat tune that went viral on TikTok, became the first Indian song to be nominated and win an Oscar. The song is from the Indian musical movie RRR, which follows two unlikely friends and Indian freedom fighters who team up to revolt against the British Raj. Spoken in the Telugu language, the film became a global sensation following its release, grossing more than $100 million dollars.
The creators of the song, M.M. Keeravaani, and Chandrabose, felt proud of their culture's achievement. Being up against stars such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna, they said, "When there is strong opposition, the taste of victory is greater than the taste of victory against a nobody.
As the years pass and award seasons come and go, we hope for more representation of diverse identities on the biggest stage in Hollywood. Yet, year after year, we fall short, highlighting the clear disparity between white creatives and people of color in the industry.
Despite this, we make small strides each year that make a significant impact. Every year, there are new firsts, and history continues to be made. However, we need to do better and recognize the talent and perspectives that people of color bring to the table in film. It's time to acknowledge their impact and work towards greater diversity and inclusivity in the industry.