The Carpet is the Only Tradition the Oscars will Break
#OscarsSoWhite had it right.
Oscar viewers this year bore witness to the change of the coveted red carpet to the new champagne color, but this is the only change in the Academy we saw. This change was met with scrutiny from USA Today host Ralphie Aversa, who questioned the carpet as the dirt began to accumulate from foot traffic. He tweeted, “The champagne carpet is starting to look more like… a dirty martini?”
Yet, as the Academy parted ways with this years-old tradition, they maintained another one: marginalizing performers of color. In its infancy, the American film industry was recovering from social ridicule and disdain having been accused of immoral debauchery that was filled with the wealthy engaging in wicked, perverse, and criminal acts.
On the heels of World War 1, many had come to regard movies and the movie industry as a danger to social change and a threat to the moral order. Roscoe Arbuckle was at the center of one scandal. Arbuckle was accused of rape and murder and eventually tried for manslaughter; he was acquitted, but his reputation was tarnished. In these ruins, the film industry needed a grand gesture to regain audience trust and generate a profit.
It was here that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded, and the Oscars ceremony took place. In its 62-year history, only 32 people of color have won Oscars. While stars like Warner Baxter and George Arliss won for portrayals of people of color, the Oscars could not separate themselves from controversy.
In 1935, on a technicality, Merle Oberon became the first Asian actor nominated for an Oscar; however, Oberon maintained that she was white throughout her career and took great pains, such as canceling press trips when local journalists became curious about her background, to conceal her heritage. Four years later, Hattie McDaniel would become the first Black woman to win an award, and she had to sit in a segregated section at the ceremony and was not invited to the after-party.
This win cemented a pattern that exists to this day: stories of actors of color being humiliated, degraded, or marginalized would win while heartfelt stories were overlooked. According to the New York Times, of the, to date, 14 ‘Best Actress’ nominees, nine played characters with absent or incarcerated significant others or fathers, nine suffered physical abuse with five being sexually assaulted, 12 involved poor characters, and 11 played characters who are homeless and of the 26 ‘Best Actor’ nominees 14 involved being arrested or incarcerated, 18 involved violent or criminal behavior, 10 had a white ‘buddy’ and eight abused or mistreated women. These stories celebrated and recognized by the Academy reinforce Black stereotypes while critically acclaimed performances by Black actors are gone unrecognized, such as with Lupita Nyong’o for Us or Keke Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya in Nope.
This year, the Academy seemed to make strides with the Everything Everywhere All at Once sweep. Yet, this small win for the movie came at the expense of Angela Bassett and Stephanie Hsu, two actresses of color who gave breathtaking performances. They were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and they were snubbed for the only white actress in an all-Asian cast, which some took issue with.
Overall, the Oscars has made it clear that it does not foster nor appreciate diversity, and the only substantial changes we will see in this lifetime are with the color of the carpet.