This year’s Oscars ceremony is being characterized by some as a big win for diversity in the film industry, marked by historic firsts that include the first film from a director of African descent to win Best Picture, and the first Mexican to win a Best Director award.
Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director for "Gravity." The Best Picture winner, “12 Years a Slave,” was directed by Steve McQueen, a British filmmaker of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Other big winners included actress Lupita Nyong'o, who was born in Mexico and raised in Kenya, and won a statuette for her supporting role in "12 Years a Slave." She became the first African performer — and the second Mexican-born performer — to win an Oscar.
African-American screenwriter John Ridley won an award for the same film. Mexican-born cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won a statuette for his work on "Gravity." In the Best Original Song category, the award went to Filipino–American Robert Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who won for “Let It Go,” their hit from the Disney animated film “Frozen.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has long been criticized for overlooking artists of color. Might this year’s awards signal a new trend? Perhaps, said UCLA sociologist Darnell Hunt, lead author of a recent report pointing out Hollywood’s lack of diversity.
“You had a lot of diversity among the top awards, which is what you typically don’t’ see," Hunt said. "So that is good. The question of course is will this continue, or is this an outlier type of year?”
Jessica Gonzalez of the National Hispanic Media Coalition said this year was certainly an improvement over last, when host Seth MacFarlane cracked a joke about having "no idea" what actors Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek were saying.
Still, things didn't go perfectly. Cruz was mistakenly identified as Hayek in an Academy Instagram photo. Gonzalez, vice-president of the media watchdog group, said there's still systemic problem with Latino inclusion, and this includes a scarcity of Latino presenters.
“Some have touted that diversity is a big winner this year," Gonzalez said. "But frankly, from our perspective, there was still a lack of Latinos on stage at the Oscars this year.”
But the Academy has been admitting more people of color lately. Hunt said he’s at least a little bit optimistic.
“Hopefully this will be the beginning of something new, because it shows that that people of color, women, diverse talents can be associated with very good projects, like the ones that we saw honored," Hunt said.
And with time, he said, the projects that get on the screen, and get recognized, may become more reflective of the movie going audience.