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Best Actress Continues to Taint the Oscars Diversity Record

While having five past winners present the acting categories once again went over well at the 2024 Oscars like it did in 2009, the Best Actress category will present a challenge toward optics should it become an annual tradition. There are only two women of color in the 96 years the Oscars have existed who have ever won the award. Would Halle Berry, the only Black Best Actress winner, and Michelle Yeoh, the only Asian Best Actress winner, swap presenting duties year by year? Otherwise, it would be an all-white lineup of presenters.

Not that other categories have a perfect history of diversity, either, but the problem is much less stark. Part of the reason why the segment works in the first place is that it sends a subtle message that any kind of person can win. If it were only women of one race up there, that intended message would be lost.

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That is the core of why there are many passionate feelings about “Killers of the Flower Moon” star Lily Gladstone, the first ever Native American nominated for Best Actress, losing the Oscar to “Poor Things” actress Emma Stone, already an Oscar winner beforehand. Again, it took 96 years just for a Native American to have a chance at winning Best Actress; it took Emma Stone only seven years to win the category a second time.

To be clear, the takeaway should not be that the “Poor Things” actress has anything to apologize for. Opinions on who should be nominated and win an Oscar are entirely subjective. The Oscars are an awards body voted on by peers, and Stone ultimately was chosen by a consensus that preferred her performance to her four fellow nominees. All that said, it’s not crazy for people to feel like if the win did not happen for Gladstone, it might never happen for another Native American actress again, given the category’s track record. Try and name an upcoming film with Oscar buzz that has another Native American woman as the lead. Therein lies the issue.

In terms of the racial makeup of this year’s Oscar winners as a whole, there was still quite a bit of diversity. For example, “American Fiction” filmmaker Cord Jefferson, “The Holdovers” star Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and “The Last Repair Shop” co-director Kris Bowers were the three Black winners from 14 nominations. A similar win ratio to last year.

The diversity stats highlighted since look more closely at nationality. Between “The Boy and the Heron” winning Best Animated Feature and “Godzilla Minus One” winning Best Visual Effects, the 96th Oscars were a big year for Japan. Special mention goes to Kiyoko Shibuya on the “Godzilla” team, who now is the first woman of color to have won in said category.

Elsewhere, Best Documentary Feature winner “20 Days in Mariupol” gave Ukraine its first Oscar, and Cillian Murphy became the first person born in Ireland to win Best Actor. And looking at diversity of age, 22-year-old Billie Eilish and 26-year-old Finneas O’Connell, winners of Best Original Song for “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie,” became the youngest two people to receive an Academy Award twice.

All said, the first year the Oscars’ inclusion standards went into effect did lead to a pretty good year for gender parity among winners, but not so well on the other diversity fronts.

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