Awarding progress — different types of faces are finally winning

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Katy Coduto

Hollywood had its biggest night this past Sunday with all the trimmings you could imagine. Ellen hosted, giving the world the new most retweeted selfie ever, which is probably more significant than we realize (because now this is a thing we’re keeping track of). Idina Menzel performed; John Travolta didn’t. Jennifer Lawrence was on screen a lot. This show had enough elements to keep viewers interested, while also giving deserving parties — like the men of “Dallas Buyers Club” — those golden statues. But something else was happening, too.

The Academy Awards got even more confusing in the debate of progression versus self-congratulation.

Here’s the thing. The Los Angeles Times did a study two years ago looking at the demographics of the different Academy voters. The study found that of the over 5,000 voters in 2012, 94 percent of them were white and 77 percent were male. And, historically, white males have won many Oscars.

Yet, historically, women and minorities have not won many Oscars, at least not in categories like Best Director. Women have totally dominated in the Best Actress category. Who would’ve thought? But it took until 2010 for a woman to win Best Director, which Kathryn Bigelow earned after directing “The Hurt Locker.” Then, this past weekend, “Gravity” mastermind Alfonso Cuarón became the first Latino to win Best Director. His win was followed by “12 Years a Slave” taking home the award for Best Picture, making Steve McQueen the first black man ever to direct a film that won in that category.  

So the question that every thinkpiece writer on the Internet asks is this: Do the Academy voters genuinely believe that these diverse individuals deserve these awards, or are the voters giving the awards so that that they, the voters, can pat themselves on the back for appearing to include diverse individuals in this typically white-male-only club?   

What I have to wonder is this: How much does that question matter when the winners are the rightful winners? Example: Cuarón directed a powerful, visually engaging film with two Hollywood powerhouses. He’s not undeserving of the award for the work he did, and his skin color and heritage have little to do with his ability to direct this particular film. If the Academy voters are proud of themselves for giving the award to a worthy director who happens to be Latino, that’s fine. How does it hurt anyone if an Academy voter is happy to see history made in regards to progression?

I understand the argument that this continues a trend of white men using women and minorities to make themselves look good, smart and progressive, but why don’t we forget about the voters and think about the people who end up really invested in these awards: the viewers at home. There wasn’t a better part of the Academy Awards than Steve McQueen’s excitement at winning. That jump on stage was priceless and honest. Is it so bad for millions of households to see that jump and to recognize that this is normal? To recognize that we should expect that anyone really can win an Oscar?

The only way to embrace the idea that anyone can be anything is to make that our reality. There isn’t a point in getting annoyed with the Academy if the deserving winners win and, in the process, can help shape our understanding of the millions of unique experiences around the world. It’s cool when movies do it, but isn’t it better to watch it unfold in real life?