Over the past 90 years, the Academy Awards have earned the moniker “Hollywood’s biggest night.” Year after year, stars have flocked and fans have watched as the industry’s highest honors are handed out to those the Academy deems most deserving. They are seen as the pinnacle of film-making, meant to celebrate outstanding performances throughout the year — and yet the celebration regularly fails include the full scope of Hollywood’s finest.
The Oscars have come under fire for their lack of diversity. Both the nominees and winners, especially within the major categories, are often whitewashed, so to speak. The trend became all too obvious in 2016 when, for the second consecutive year, the acting categories were populated with all-white nominees. The monochromaticity served as a catalyst for a social-media movement. While watching the nominations that year, April Reign took to Twitter to voice her disappointment, using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite — a phrase that would become a rallying cry.
Once you recognize the Oscars’ lack of diversity, you can’t unsee it, and you wonder how it took you so long to notice. But fixing the issue is more complex than recognizing that it exists. The problem goes beyond inherent and/or subconscious bias among the electorate. The Oscars have been so white, for so long in part because, even if there were no voter prejudice, even if the awards were given out on merit and merit alone, minority actors rarely get cast in Oscar-contending films.
In this century, only 10% of the Academy’s acting nominations have gone to black actors, 3% to Hispanic actors, and a negligible 1% to Asian-Americans. While these numbers are partly indicative of smaller ethnic populations within America, they are also indicative of a systemic industry inequality. Despite making up 40% of the American population, ethnic minority actors still only secure around 15% of the top roles offered. To put it another way, minority actors are outnumbered two-to-one among lead roles, two-to-one among film directors, and three-to-one among writers. The disparity is hard to deny.
That being said, there are movements towards a more inclusive award season. Progress has been made since Reign first took to Twitter, and more diverse casts, crews, and subject matter are getting a greater share of the spotlight. Last year, Moonlight beat out La La Land for Best Picture, and several acting nods went to people of color, including Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Ruth Negga (Loving), and Dev Patel (Lion).
Earlier this month, Octavia Spencer made history as the first black actress to follow-up an Oscar win (Help, 2011) with two more nominations (Hidden Figures, 2017; The Shape of Water, 2018). Greta Gerwig became only the fifth female to be nominated in the Best Director category, alongside Jordan Peele, who is one of only a handful of black directors to have ever received a nod; and Rachel Morrison broke ground as the first-ever female nominee in the Best Cinematography category.
Other minority nominees this year include Daniel Kaluuya (Best Actor, Get Out), Mary J. Blige (Best Supporting Actress, Mudbound), Kumail Nanjiani (Best Original Screenplay, The Big Sick, which he wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon), and Guillermo del Toro (Best Director, The Shape of Water). It is slow progress, but progress nonetheless. What remains to be seen, as we look to the ceremonies themselves, is whether this diversity is merely a move to save face or one that truly spurs momentum in the right direction.
For the most part, the odds for the winners in the major categories still skew white. The lines available at Bovada are fairly similar to what you are going to find at other sportsbooks and, as we have talked about before, they are pretty spot-on at the moment.
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However, some of the minority nominees have a decent chance to shake things up this year.
Best Minority Picks for Best Picture
Though The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri both have shorter odds than Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age tale, Lady Bird should not be underestimated. This is no sleeper hit. Enjoying wildly high ratings, Lady Bird has stolen the hearts of viewers and critics alike. The female-directed, female-driven, female-written piece also comes at an incredibly timely moment. The call to recognize work done by women in the industry is a loud one, and if the Academy has been paying attention at all, Lady Bird stands a better chance at victory than these odds show.
Jordan Peele’s social-thriller was a box-office hit and has remained a conversation piece for almost an entire year — a rare achievement in its own right. Interestingly, the odds have continued to shorten the longer the film has been out. Unfortunately for Peele, it feels as though Get Out and Lady Bird have been vying for the same spot as this year’s dark horse, and with Gerwig in the running, Peele is likely to play second minority fiddle.
Best Minority Picks for Best Director
Guillermo del Toro
This is the one category where a minority nominee has been the favorite all award season. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has swept all the Best Director awards thus far and, as you can see above, is expected to continue doing so.
Once again, we come back to Greta. Gerwig’s presence in this category should not be taken for granted. She is one of only five female directors to ever receive a nomination in the 90-year history of the Academy Awards, and Lady Bird was her directorial debut. She was nominated in a category that includes some of Hollywood’s finest, most-acclaimed directors (Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Thomas Anderson), and managed to edge out other industry heavy-hitters (Steven Spielberg comes to mind). While the chances are high that del Toro will take home the statuette, Gerwig is the best bet among the underdogs — if you can even call her that, at this point.
Best Minority Pick for Best Actor
Get Out’s leading man, Daniel Kaluuya, doesn’t stand much of a chance if you take the odds on Bovada at face value. However, the young actor continues to get astounding reviews for his performance in Peele’s film. With the recent push for diversity and recognition of minority actors by the Academy, can Kaluuya push past the main competitors in his way? If not for Gary Oldman, Kaluuya would be a much better bet to pull an upset. Oldman basically has the award in the bag already, though, for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Sadly for Kaluuya it’s a case of right performance/wrong time. Yet, if there is anyone who stands a chance at upheaval, it’s the 28-year-old Brit.