In 2002 Halle Berry became the first black woman to win the best actress Oscar, yet in a recent interview with Teen Vogue Berry reflected back on her win as a “moment [that] really meant nothing."
"I was profoundly hurt by that and saddened by that and it inspired me to try to get involved in other ways," she went on to say.
On the BBC News website this week, Neil Smith points to the ways in which such responses from black actresses and actors have driven the Academy to announce that “it is inviting 774 new members from 57 countries in an effort to boost diversity.”
Actors Naomie Harris, Riz Ahmed and Warwick Davis are among those invited to join, with the Oscars organisers saying 39% of the new class are women, boosting the overall female membership to 28%, up three points from 2015. It added that the new membership is also nearly a third non-white, with the number of non-white voters now at 13%, up from 8% two years ago.
Neil Smith asked Brunel’s Professor Sarita Malik, an expert in diversity and screen media, if Berry is right to feel aggrieved. Sarita suggested:
“What Halle Berry says reveals the burden of representation that has historically been placed on black actors, films and representations more widely – the idea these have to deal with the persistent problem of under-representation.
“Her disappointment has come to characterise our expectations, where we are led to believe that more and better kinds of diverse representation will follow these rare successes.
“The Oscars is a big deal because of its international profile, its legacy and as a barometer of the cultural mood. If the Oscars is virtually all-white, as historically it has tended to be, this says something about the kinds of culture we celebrate and support. But it also reveals the kinds of films that are commissioned, funded and made visible through marketing and distribution.
“The past couple of years have usefully brought to the fore important public debates about diversity in the film industry and it is a positive step that the Academy’s membership is being broadened. It’s important that there is more diversity in leadership but also that, rather than churning out more and more diversity initiatives, the question of why such inequality exists is tackled head-on.”
Sarita Malik is Professor of Media, Culture and Communications, based within the College of Business, Arts and Social Sciences at Brunel. She is currently leading the three-year research project Creative Interruptions. Visit creativeinterruptions.com for the latest project news and events.
Sarah Cox, Media Relations