At the Oscars on Sunday night, Emma Stone introduced the five people nominated for Best Director. She proudly spoke the words that either the writers of the telecast provided for her or which she improvised on her own:
These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.
Applause and cheers erupted throughout the room. Online, the emphasis on the one female nominee received praise. But the words overlooked a striking and evident fact. “These four men and Greta Gerwig,” words meant to highlight a woman’s nomination for Best Director, in fact erased the category’s non-white nominees.
Jordan Peele is bi-ethnic but identifies as Black. His life experience therefore includes racial discrimination and finding his identity in a society built without his humanity in mind. His film Get Out is a social commentary on Blackness in America. So often seen as aggressive and criminal, this perception has been used to justify brutality, especially toward Black men. Peele’s film, by contrast, seeks to show Black men as vulnerable, afraid, human — experiences typically invalidated by our society.
Guillermo del Toro, an immigrant from Mexico, won as Best Director for The Shape of Water. He began his acceptance speech by saying:
I am an immigrant, like many, many of you… I think the greatest thing that our industry does is erase the line in the sand,” the filmmaker said. “We should continue doing that, when the world tells us to make it deeper.
del Toro was emotional as he accepted his first Oscar, but the irony of the misguided words delivered earlier by Stone still lingered. Later, after he won his second Oscar, for Best Picture, he stated that as a kid, “growing up in Mexico, I thought this could never happen.”
Whoever wrote or thought of them, the words spoken by Stone situated white womanhood at the center — the overcome-er, the focal point. It neglected the intersectionality of injustice. Awareness of this is the authentic nature of fully realized feminism. Without it, you create a trend, not a movement. Centering whiteness above the struggles of people of color has been done throughout history, forcing marginalized stories and voices to take a back seat.
In a recent talk with Oprah, Peele described his film as a way for “a lot of white people to experience the world through the black perspective.” Until the recent success of Get Out and Black Panther, movie studios didn’t believe films with people of color at the helm would fill seats, so studios didn’t make them. Those words on Stone’s teleprompter overlooked the social significance of Peele and del Toro’s work and the struggles of people of color. It is not only possible but necessary to praise Gerwig, Peele, del Toro and all the nominees without diminishing people of color.
Dualities can exist when we take strides toward positive change. And genuine movement forward requires inclusivity, not peripheral gazes towards other people’s positions and experiences in society. Gerwig’s well-earned nomination is only the fifth time a woman has been nominated in this category, true, but Peele’s nomination is only the fifth nomination for a Black person in his category — and he won, the first Oscar for a Black screenwriter. Mainstream feminism must choose to see the unique struggles of people of color or else it is not feminism, but a hollow system that discredits the achievements and life experiences of other marginalized people.
The realities of marginalized people must be seen, respected and valued; to ignore these realities is to further discrimination. Exclusivity breeds and encourages invisibility. It’s a pairing that can never allow equality to be the focal point, whereas inclusivity is what will give equity a fighting chance. It’s time to take a note from del Toro and stop drawing lines in the sand.
It’s essential to recognize the breadth of prejudice between groups and to listen to other people’s stories so their hardships, the work they have accomplished while enduring prejudice, and the message of their carefully crafted stories are not erased. Intentional inclusion: that is the only true way forward.
At the end of Oscar night, Best Actress winner Frances McDormand mentioned an “inclusion rider,” a binding document in which actors may require certain types of diversities among cast and crew. After working for 35 years in the film industry, it turns out she’d only heard about this clause recently. Here is how she was quoted in Variety:
The whole idea of women trending… no. No ‘trending.’ African Americans, ‘trending’? No, no ‘trending.’ It changes now and I think that an inclusion rider will help do that.
I couldn’t agree more.