The Oscars’ lack of representation is reflected in VCU’s cinema department

Illustration by Catherine Lee

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

We’ve all heard the question: “Why are the Oscars so white?” This year is no different. The awards ceremony is still very white and male-centered, making this year’s nominations unrepresentative of the country’s diversity. 

While the Academy has been claiming it would like to diversify its nomination pool for nearly three years now, it is to no avail. This year, the Academy only nominated five black people — Cynthia Erivo, nominated for best actress for her role in the movie “Harriet,” was the sole black nominee in all four best actor and actress categories. Even more disappointingly, an array of women, both white and of color, were snubbed. Rumored favorites were Greta Gerwig, director of “Little Women,” Jennifer Lopez for her supporting role in “Hustlers” and the biggest upset for me: Lupita Nyong’o for her leading role in “Us.” 

It’s not only the Academy that is so whitewashed — the entire film industry is. We have seen only recently an increase in black casts and crews. The VCU cinema department mirrors the lack of diversity in the real world, as it is primarily staffed by white men. According to the faculty and staff page on the department’s website, it appears there are no black staff members with administrative positions.

Vanessa Moreno, a Bolivian sophomore in the department, said the teaching staff lacked color. She said her introductory classes were taught by “just white guys.” Like most of the teaching staff at VCU, the cinema department is full of professionals from the field. The first cinematography class Moreno ever took at VCU was taught by a director of photography from the cinema world. He, like most VCU professors, is white. While his race didn’t inhibit Moreno’s learning experience, it did open her eyes to the reality of the film industry.

I used to be a fan of the Academy during my first two years of high school. My dad and I would wait for the nominations to come out and then watch every single movie before placing bets on our favorites. But it never really occurred to me that the Oscars were just another form of underrepresentation in the professional world. 

Since the first presentation of the Academy Awards in 1927, only five women have been nominated for best director; of those five, only one — Kathryn Bigelow, director of  “The Hurt Locker” — has ever received the award in the ceremony’s history. 

For me, Nyong’o was completely robbed for her role in “Us.” She played a role that was just as impressively disturbing as Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.” Yet only one of them got a nomination, while the other was harassed online for her role. I wonder what the difference is?

Moreno, like me, used to enjoy watching the awards ceremony until she realized not many nominees and winners looked like her. She said she won’t be tuning in this Sunday for the show. 

“I don’t really believe it’s [the Oscars] something for us [people of color],” Moreno said. “I’ve watched it in the past, but this year especially the nominations weren’t something I felt to be valuable.” 

Just like Moreno, I am fatigued after holding my breath to see just a little bit of color on nomination day. 

Movies are meant to be symbolic of our dreams and fantasies while spotlighting the realities of life. All we are asking for is recognition of those women and people of color who are constantly breaking down barriers set up by the same men celebrating each other every year. 

1 Comment

  1. Hello!! I think you missed the 6 women in our faculty and staff! One is a Moroccan American filmmaker, another is an Asian American filmmaker. And 2, including me, are long time industry veterans. And one of our male faculty is Asian American. It’s a fabulous program with a mix of faculty – and the intention to reach further in bringing in more diversity as we grow.
    Adjunct Professor Virginia Bertholet

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