In 2016, we’re still talking about #OscarsSoWhite because, of course we are. Change is slow, so what did we expect after last year’s similar criticism? Oh, that’s right, we expected actual steps to be taken in the 12 months since we did this last February.
But, I will say that my anger was also quickly buoyed by the fact that this year’s response was so immediate, so absolute in its call for change, and being levied by some of the heaviest hitters in the industry. Shout out to Jada’s call for boycott and Lupita’s wise words that “the awards should not dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today.” After all, for change to take place, the call to action must be made by the consumers who drive ticket sales, as well as from within the industry itself.
During the last few weeks, as more celebrities started voicing their opinions about “diversity in Hollywood,” (which, Viola Davis points out, is not a “trending topic”) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the awarding institution, actually vowed to continue making changes to the selection and nomination process, I was frankly still a bit unmoved.
This Oscars debacle is just one aspect of what is a consistent de-valuing of women, people of color, and primarily women of color, in our society. As someone who works on and thinks about issues related to women’s economic security on a daily basis, it doesn’t feel hard to draw the through-line here.
Just as women of color in Hollywood aren’t being awarded and celebrated properly as actors, directors, and writers, women of color across the country are being undervalued, and underserved, at every level. A Black woman working full-time is paid just 60 cents for every dollar a white man is paid. For Latina women it’s 55 cents, Asian women it’s 86 cents, and for Native American women it’s 59 cents. These two phenomenon don’t exist in a vacuum.
The stories of these women still aren’t being told. The real, complex, layered lives of women of color in this country and beyond, who make it work every day for their families without acknowledgment or fanfare – or even the basic supports any human is entitled to – aren’t showing up in mainstream films unless there is some kind of “white savior” plotline. If we told those stories, we’d have to confront the truth in them, and that would be uncomfortable.
That those stories not being reflected in big budget films speaks directly to the way in which we place value on the contributions, livelihoods, achievements – and stories – of women. Currently two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Lack of quality and affordable child care and no federal parental leave policy leave women, especially women of color, to jump through enormous hurdles just to provide for themselves and their families. And, at the end of a long week when it is finally time to relax, even the message being communicated to us by the media is that our stories don’t have enough value to be celebrated equally as those of white men.
So, sure: The conversation around the Oscars is thankfully garnering some much-needed attention, but it is also just the tip of the inequity iceberg.
I will likely watch parts of the show on Sunday, if for no other reason than to see what Chris Rock says in the opening monologue, and who of the (white) winners decides to use their platform for the better. But, until we see an overhaul of these policies that keep women of color de-valued across all socioeconomic levels and in all sectors and industries, I will also keep cheering in my living room for the moms, sisters, cousins, caregivers, and daughters who continue to speak up, speak out, and show up to work everyday, because change is made from our collective voice shouting louder than the institutions that have yet to catch up to the realities of our worth and the depth of our power.
Alicia Jay is Make It Work’s Managing Director. She makes it work by discovering new hiking paths with her dog, honing her identity as a secret comedy nerd, and with the patience and generosity of family and friends.