Saturday 16 January 2021
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Oscar Night Hispanic Spotlight Can’t Hide the Academy’s Glaring Whiteness



Guillermo del Toro became the third Mexican director to win best director.

Guillermo del Toro became the third Mexican director to win best director.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that this past Sunday was Oscar night. The annual red carpet event, during which actors and actresses clap for each other, deliver speeches equally applauded, and millions of viewers worldwide marvel at how sparkly it all is. Except that it really isn’t so sparkly under the surface.

Hollywood hasn’t historically been an arena of cultural inclusivity, and the past year has exposed a depressing level of grossly rampant sexual misconduct among powerful male figures in the industry. The exposure of these men and their behavior has been eye-opening to the masses who have until now been predominantly shown only Hollywood’s glamorous facade.

Breaking into the darkness of an industry rife with racial, sexual, and gender-based power imbalances, they’ve been challenged to root out the ill and strive toward a future of healing. The trouble is, old practices die hard, and when race, gender, and power structures are institutionally embedded, the change is all the more challenging.

Now that Hollywood is staring its laundry list of problematic historical failures in the face and being held accountable, they’re doing what only Hollywood is so masterful at: creating pomp and spectacle around improving cultural representation. In the 90-year history of the Oscars, there have been five Hispanic-American Oscar winners; two women and three men. Granted, this past Sunday, not a single Hispanic actor nor actress was nominated, but the stage was populated by a number of Latino individuals.

Guillermo Del Toro took four awards home for his film The Shape of Water, including best picture and best director. Obviously, there was the red carpet and a sea of glamorous designer gowns, suits, and getups, but one particular queen stood out: Rita Moreno. She walked in, 86 years old, donning the dress she wore when she won an Oscar for best supporting actress in West Side Story in 1962. Of the estimated 7,880 tailors, seamstresses, dressmakers, and countless fashionably opinionated people in the United States, we’d say she needed none of them. Her time back in the spotlight was breathtaking and undeniably elegant.

Hispanic representation on the Oscar stage was greater than it has been in years. Gael Garcia Bernal took center stage to sing “Remember Me,” which won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and Salma Hayek also joined other representatives of the Times Up movement on stage in major moments during Oscar Night. Even so,Latinos still remain one of the most underrepresented groups in the history of the Oscars. While conversation and slow changes are hitting Hollywood, voices long unheard need to continue to be loud and support each other.

The presenters urged viewers to keep Puerto Rico’s recovery, DACA, and immigrant rights in mind. Del Toro made his acceptance speech, powerfully summing up a salient point: “I am an immigrant. In the last 25 years, I’ve been living in a country all of our own. I think the greatest thing that our art does and our industry does is erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make it deeper.”

Those lines have been in the sand for a long time, but some change later is better than none at all.

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