Oscars diversity improved after #OscarsSoWhite, study shows. But glaring gaps remain
News flash: Hollywood is still disproportionately white and male. But a new USC study shows that while the Academy Awards continue to stubbornly resist change in many categories, there have been gains in inclusivity in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite.
The study released Wednesday by USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative found that nominations among underrepresented racial or ethnic groups and women increased after 2015, when activist April Reign created the viral hashtag.
Looking at the eight years before and after #OscarsSoWhite, the USC study found that 8% of nominees between 2008 and 2015 came from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups. In the post-#OscarsSoWhite era between 2016 and 2023, that number has risen to 17%.
In the eight-year period leading up to #OscarsSoWhite, women represented 21% of Oscar nominees; the study shows that this number rose to 27% in the eight years since.
The data points to a positive change for the Oscars in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, though the academy is still far from tied in the 19 categories surveyed by USC Annenberg researchers.
Even with the Asian-American-led “Everything Everywhere All At Once” poised to make history at this year’s 95th Oscars, films starring black leads and directors were completely barred from nominations, no actor of color broke in the lead actor category and there were no women nominated for best director.
While the study found notable changes in 16 of the 19 categories examined, three — editing, sound and visual effects — showed no notable change in nominees from underrepresented communities. And zero of the categories examined in the study achieved proportional representation comparable to the demographics of the US population.
Still, USC’s Stacy L. Smith credits the viral hashtag — created by Reign as acting nominations in all four categories went to white performers two years in a row — with sparking change.
“When April Reign unleashed #OscarsSoWhite, she tapped into the collective desire for change and the outrage people felt when they saw actors of color once again excluded from this career-defining award,” said Smith. “This comprehensive look at the Oscars shows that exclusion was normative for many years and is still prevalent in many categories. But it also shows that there is power in collective action, and that energy has made the years since #OscarsSoWhite look nothing like the years before.”
The findings are part of a larger USC Annenberg research initiative that is mapping demographics across nearly a century of Oscars history, examining 13,253 feature film nominees dating back to the first Academy Awards in 1929 by race/ethnicity, gender and category.
Nominee’s race/ethnicity and gender identity were determined using online references, photos, and direct confirmation where available. While other marginalized communities were not examined in the study, USC researchers plan to conduct future analysis on Oscar nominees who identify as LBTQIA+ and those with disabilities.
The broader view of the academy’s racial/ethnic history shows that white nominees outnumber non-white nominees 17 to 1, with Hattie McDaniel breaking the barrier in 1940 as the first person of color to be a Oscar won for her supporting role in ‘Gone With’. the wind.”
The data, called The Inclusion List, is open to the public and provides an intersection of both the recent advances and the ongoing failures of inclusion in Hollywood’s top prize.
The 95-year study found that in the history of the Academy Awards, only 6% of nominees have been people of color. From the inaugural Oscars to this month’s 95th awards, 17% of all nominees were female. Women of color represent only 2% of the total nominees.
In the directing category, women have been nominated only eight times and won three times. Four of those nominations (Greta Gerwig for “Lady Bird,” Emerald Fennell for “Promising Young Woman,” Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland,” and Jane Campion for “Power of the Dog”) came after 2017.
Comprehensive data from the Oscars by race/ethnicity shows that black nominees represent 1.9% of all nominees and 2% of all winners from 1929-2023, across 253 nominations and 57 winners.
Hispanic and Latino nominees account for 231, or 1.7%, of all nominees and 57, or 2%, of all winners. Three filmmakers – Alejandro Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro – account for 17% of all Hispanic/Latino Oscar wins.
Asian nominees make up 2% of all nominees and 1.7% of all winners across 229 nominations and 47 wins. 2023 marks the highest number of Asian nominees in a single year – 20 – thanks in large part to “Everything Everywhere All at Once”‘s 11 nominations. Twenty-three percent of all wins by Asian nominees occurred over two years, 2020 and 2021.
Nominees of Middle Eastern/North African descent make up 0.4% of the nominees and winners (49 nominees and seven winners).
Even fewer Indigenous people (0.14%, or 19) have been nominated for an Oscar, with only three winners in 95 years.