Academy Awards did well on diversity and inclusion. If only they had remembered to be fun

At this year’s Oscars, history arrived in white sneakers and pigtails. Chloé Zhao became the first woman of colour — and the second woman — to win Best Director (Nomadland). The awards have been criticised in the past for mostly going to contenders who are white or male or both: Recall how actor Issa Rae paused after she read out the Best Director nominees for 2020 and said, “Congratulations to those men”. Rarely has a split second of silence been so heavy with meaning.

So by awarding the trophy to a talented young Asian-American woman, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose members vote on the winners, has done well. Also noteworthy are supporting actor winners Daniel Kaluuya and Yuh-Jung Youn and Jamika Wilson and Mia Neal who are not only the first black women to win in makeup and hairstyling, but are the first to ever be nominated in that category. This is a major shift from the notorious #OscarsSoWhite days of 2015 and 2016. That trenchant hashtag, in fact, has a lot to do with the changes visible now. After the 2016 fiasco, the Academy kicked off initiatives for a more diverse membership and greater inclusivity and representation in the Best Picture category.

But even the most inclusive event can only have a limited impact if there’s no one to watch. A mere 9.85 million viewers tuned in to watch the Oscars this year, the lowest ever for the event. If the Academy wants its message of diversity and inclusion to stick, it has to do more. Being boring is not an option, especially if there’s an important social message to be delivered. A low-key ceremony sans a wisecracking host may suit the sombre mood of the pandemic, but, frankly, we could all use some distraction. The frothier and more glamorous, the better.

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