The Oscars Makes Strides in Diversity and Technological Advancement

by STEMconnector

This is a blog post by Bree Jones, a Spring 2017 Intern at STEMconnector. Bree is interning with us from The Washington Center and is a journalism major in her junior year at the University of Iowa.

This past Sunday, the 89th Annual Academy Awards did more than award great films and acting, it also celebrated diversity, technological innovation, as well as the power of strong mentorship.

Earlier in February, the Oscars presented the Scientific and Technical Awards, which celebrated technical innovation within the film industry. The awards acknowledged the technologists, innovators, engineers and inventors who have greatly impacted and expanded the realm of creative storytelling. The awards honored the revolutionary advancement of digital cinema cameras that gave filmmakers the technology to convert the capture of electronic images for motion picture production. Global diversity was also strongly represented with award recipients from Japan, Germany, and New Zealand.

New technologies and media services received accolade as well. Amazon became the first streaming service to acquire a Best Picture nomination for their film, Manchester by the Sea for which Casey Affleck, the film’s protagonist, won Best Actor. Netflix also received an award for best documentary short for White Helmet. These awards symbolize a new technological era in which untraditional entertainment platforms can now produce and compete with major film companies.

Another reoccurring theme of the night was the importance of mentorship and inspiration. Several actors and actresses mentioned a few of their favorite movies and film stars who inspired them to join the acting profession. Strong mentorship is an integral component in youth development, especially in STEM fields. For instance, Hidden Figures’ positive portrayal of African-American women in STEM industries has inspired young women across the country to pursue STEM related fields and occupations. A pivotal moment during the Oscars occurred when 98 year-old Katherine Johnson, one of the real-life NASA mathematicians portrayed in the film, received a standing ovation, becoming a “hidden figure” no longer.

The prevalence of diversity was also seen in the acting nominations as well. All acting categories contained at least one person of color and several of the nominees and subsequent winners were people of color. In fact, 4 of the nominees for best picture (Lion, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Fences) featured people of color as their leading characters. In response to last year’s #OscarsSoWhite outrage, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs initiated a campaign designed to diversify the academy’s predominately male-dominated membership.

The Academy of Arts and Motion Picture Science has a long-standing history of White overrepresentation. According to a 2014 LA Times investigation, 94% of the Academy’s members are white, 77% are male, 2% are Black, 2% are Latino, while .5% are Asian, Native combined. In effort to create a more inclusive and diverse organization, the academy invited a record-breaking 683 film industry professionals from 59 different countries. 46% of membership invitees were women while 41% were people of color. However, despite these impressive figures, female representation only increased by 2% while minority representation increased by 3%. In an industry heavily dominated by white faces, cultural and ethnic representation matters. Currently, 91% of the Academy’s members are white and 76% are male.

The changes in the Academy’s membership demographics may seem minor, however it is important to remember that social progress, just like scientific advancement, takes time.