American films

#OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign on the Oscar nominations and why #BlackPressMatters

April Reign is encouraged by progress made on diversity in Hollywood but says ‘there is much work still to be done’, and opens a new front with call for media to hire more from marginalised communities

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 January, 2018, 7:01am

In January 2015, April Reign tweeted an observation of the Academy Award nominees. The hashtag she attached, #OscarsSoWhite, became a trending topic on the social media platform and resurfaced the following year when all the acting nominees for the industry’s top prize were, again, all white.

It has since become a rallying cry in Hollywood and abroad for greater inclusion of marginalised voices and perspectives on screen, behind the camera and in executive offices.

Following the latest Oscar nominations, Reign said she’s “encouraged by the incremental progress every year but there is still so much work to be done”.

“#OscarsSoWhite is very much alive and as relevant as when I created it. And until we are no longer lauding firsts after a 90-year history [of the film academy], until we can no longer count a traditionally under-represented group’s number of nominations in a particular category on our fingers, there will be more work to do,” she said in an interview from the Sundance Film Festival.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded to the calls for greater inclusion by making a commitment, under its former president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, to double the number of women and people of colour in its membership by 2020. Its new president, John Bailey, vowed to maintain that goal when he took office last year.

Everyone should have the opportunity to tell their story and every movie-goer should have the opportunity to see themselves on screen
April Reign

“I intend to hold them to that,” Reign said.

Some of the notable nominations for folks from diverse backgrounds: The Big Sick co-writer Kumail Nanjiani earned an original screenplay nod, which he shares with his wife, Emily V. Gordon. Mary J. Blige of Mudbound earned two nominations, for supporting actress and original song, the latter of which she shares with Raphael Saadiq. Jordan Peele ( Get Out ), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) and Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) were all nominated in both the director and original screenplay categories. And trans filmmaker Yance Ford was nominated for best feature documentary for Strong Island.

Reign believes this increase in diversity among the nominees could be due to the academy’s efforts to diversify its membership, but that alone doesn’t mean the #OscarsSoWhite campaign is over.

“#OscarsSoWhite is not binary,” she said. “It’s about all marginalised communities, including sexual orientation and gender and disability status, [not just race]. We still haven’t seen a person with a disability playing a superhero. Representation of the Latino community [is still lacking], especially considering their growing numbers in this country.”

“Everyone should have the opportunity to tell their story and every movie-goer should have the opportunity to see themselves on screen.”

She also noted that the media has an important role to play in the “continuing push for diversity and inclusion”.

“In the upcoming year, it’s going to be increasingly important that media outlets hire and work with people from marginalised communities as their journalists, contributors and critics,” she said, announcing another hashtag to be used, #BlackPressMatters.

“It’s been great to see the diverse and inclusive films [at Sundance] but when I’ve had the opportunity to be on the press lines, I’m often the only person of colour or only black woman interviewing folks from diverse communities.”

“That has to change.”