The Academy Forgot a Lot of Invitations at This Year’s Awards

Last night, we saw a powerful use of keynote speaking that reminded us why we are so proud to be in the industry. The 2020 Academy Awards list of nominees looked…traditional…and by traditional we mean white. However, the overall tone of the 92nd Academy Awards—from opening sketches to closing acts and the speeches and performances in between—was critical of the lack of diversity in the nominee selection. 

The beauty of keynote speaking is how each individual uses his or her platform to tell a story. The most impactful moments on stage are the ones where an unseen story is brought to light by a powerful, authentic voice.  

Janelle Monae shocked our systems with an opening tribute to the extravagance of the movies this year. With dancers dressed as characters from The Joker, Midsommar, Dolemite Is My Name, Us, and Queen and Slim surrounding Monae, she set the tone for the evening. Monae said, “Tonight, we celebrate the art of the storyteller; those voices long deprived.” 

From there, Chris Rock and Steve Martin took over with a bit of comedy. They called out every way the Academy blew it—from deciding not to nominate any woman for Best Director to only having one black nominee in all the categories. In a moment of poignancy, Martin asked Rock what the difference was between this Academy Awards ceremony and the very first ceremony in 1929. The answer: In 2020, we now have ONE black nominee. “Amazing growth,” Martin added sarcastically. 

Once the awards started flowing, we saw a few notable winners use their 45 seconds to leave a lasting impact on the audience. Hair Love, the Oscar recipient for Best Short Animated Film on its own was a testament to the importance of diversity in media and film. This animated short follows an African-American father attempting to style his young daughter’s hair. When the executive producer Matthew A. Cherry received his award, he explained the purpose behind his film was to promote diversity, especially in animated films. Since children are viewing animated movies in their formative years, he wants everyone to grow up with self-love in their hearts. 

Cherry also encouraged his audience to explore the Crown Act and get behind the cause. After a quick Google search, it’s clear how closely-knit his film and the Crown Act are. The Crown Act would outlaw housing and employment discrimination based on hair. It encourages people of all races to embrace their natural hair without penalty of discrimination based on race or ethnicity. 

From there, we saw a strange mix. Actors celebrating the few diverse members of the award ceremony while others speaking about the lack of diversity tried to detach themselves from the embarrassment of the award ceremony. Taika Waititi, a native Maori from New Zealand (and director of Jojo Rabbit), called on other indigenous people and people of color to tell their story because they are the original storytellers. 

In times of such drastic exclusion, we admire those who use the art of keynote speaking to shed light on the issue. As Diversity Expert Risha Grant explains, “Diversity is who you invite to the party; inclusion is who you ask to dance.” 

Looking at this year’s list of nominees, it is clear the Academy did not have diversity and equal representation in mind when it sent out invites. But through the performances and winner’s speeches, we see a glimmer of hope. People in the film industry (and maybe outside of the Academy) are looking to include new dance partners who can teach us all some new steps.

Jessica Welch is a freelance writer, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Anthropology from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Her business thought articles often appear on Business 2 Community, Born 2 Invest, and YF Entrepreneurs.