The Academy Awards Makes a Statement for Hollywood’s Future with Presenter Picks

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There is an interesting diversity pivot finally occurring in Hollywood that’s more visible than ever. From exposing Harvey Weinstein to Black Panther setting box office records for the biggest February debut ever, the Hollywood we once knew seems to be evolving on multiple levels. This change can now it directly be seen in the Academy’s announcement of their first round of awards presenters, which includes Daniela Vega, the trans actress who stars A Fantastic Woman, which is nominated for Best Foreign Film.

Daniela will be making history as the first openly trans performer to present an iconic golden statue at this years Academy Awards, which is well deserved because her performance in A Fantastic Woman floored me and deserves recognition. In every scene, she effortlessly paints with the human emotions most people struggle to deal with, making it one of the pivotal roles for women on screen in 2017. But it wasn’t one that I thought the Academy would recognize let alone, highlight by nominating a Latino trans presenter (even if they didn’t nominate her for Best Actress, which they should have). This isn’t something that would have happened prior to now. Hollywood is facing such an interesting backlash that is simultaneously creating a flashforward that’s catapulting rising stars like Daniela onto the center stage.

The producers of this year’s Oscars kept it classy, announcing the nominees without patting themselves on the back for their truly diverse list of presenters. A statement released by the telecast’s producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd said, “Whether returning to the Oscars stage, or gracing it for the first time, each of these artists bring their own distinguishing and energetic appeal… Their contributions will make for an unforgettable evening.”

In addition to Daniela, the list of presenters includes is a diverse mix of performers at the top of their game, including Chadwick Boseman, Tiffany Haddish, Kumail Nanjiani, and, as expected, last year’s winners Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Mahershala Ali (minus Casey Affleck). This list also included a lot of women like Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie, Laura Dern, and Jennifer Garner. The lone white man on the list was Spiderman star Tom Holland, which was such an interesting juxtaposition when compared with the typical list of previous years, consisting primarily of white men and some women (who were also typically white). When the second round of presenters was announced, the Academy added Native American actor Wes Studi, Star Wars cast members Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac and Kelly Marie Tran, as well as, Zendaya, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Gina Rodriguez, among others.

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If the Academy is trying to prove that they’re woke, they’re doing a good of seeming like they’re doing the work necessary to make Hollywood a more inclusive place. Really, the best strategy for the Academy, and really Hollywood at large, is to deliberately support art, ideas, and films that are inclusive. This is possibly the only strategy necessary to rise above the barrage of never-ending scandals coming out of Hollywood. Because, if this is all for show, what’s the point? Right now, the biggest films in Hollywood center around woman and people of color. There’s a demand for representation and people are deliberately spending their money in a way that reflects this.  Box Office Mojo reports Black Panther made an “estimated $201.7 million over the three-day and is expected to surpass $235 million for the four-day weekend.”

When you couple this with the domino effect ignited by a variety of serious allegations about Hollywood’s heavy hitters, the popularity of the #metoo movement, the Time’s Up Initiative and SAG-AFTRA’S new sexual harassment guidelines, one thing is clear: change is here. And it’s happening all at once because people of color, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, people of color, and really anyone who isn’t a white man have come together to support one another. Through this support, we have ignited a change that is difficult for the establishment to put to bed.

The #metoo movement has done a lot to push forward these kinds of positive changes like trans filmmaker Yance Ford earning a Best Documentary nomination for Strong Island. Some people argue that the #metoo movement has had a negative impact as well, saying that it prevented James Franco from being nominated for The Disaster Artist. However, it didn’t do much to prevent alleged wife abuser Gary Oldman from being nominated for Best Actor and he is still favored to win. This is because in some respects things in Hollywood are still, business as usual. This will end though as the shift continues to make way for broader, more inclusive filmmaking, which should lead to a wider spectrum of nominations at awards shows. Even if things haven’t changed overnight, the ball is rolling and we can only hope that these changes not only continue, but are embraced so this will happen.

Still, it begs the question, are these inclusive moves permanent or are they just apart of an elaborate PR scheme to distance the Academy Awards from the monsters it actively supported in the past? I am suspicious, as I always am, when it comes to things that seem like publicity stunts, but we have to give people, and institutions for that matter, the benefit of the doubt. Change isn’t easy. There’s no specific roadmap, and most of the time institutional change can only be precipitated by a chain reaction, which is what the #metoo movement kicked off.

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Hopefully, the Academy understands that highlighting diversity isn’t a solution, but rather, it’s a stepping stone towards equality. People want there to be a quick fix when it comes to issues like these, so they go away and things can “go back to normal,” however what’s needed isn’t the facade of change but an actual new normal. One where the stories about white people, and especially white men are not made obsolete, but instead are challenged by the untapped greatness of a variety because of their color, gender, and orientation.

Representation matters. Not just because it is fair, but because there are more stories to be told. We will really only see how serious both Hollywood and the Academy are when the winners of the 90th Annual Academy Awards are finally announced next month.

 | Contributor

Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer and storyteller. During a decade long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s currently producing a syndicated news show for FOX television while tirelessly fighting the patriarchy Every. Damn. Day.

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