The most racially diverse Oscars field in recent history is a rebuke to Donald Trump's America
The 2017 Oscar nominations are in, and the contrast to years past is striking. After decades of criticism for the ceremony's often staggering whiteness and maleness, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences responded Tuesday with one of the most racially diverse lineups in Oscar history.
For the first time ever, three black actors were nominated in the same category. Barry Jenkins' Moonlight snagged eight nominations, including one for best director. Denzel Washington's Fences got four nods, Hidden Figures received three and OJ: Made in America, I Am Not Your Negro and Ava DuVernay's 13th were all recognized in the best documentary category.
But the most remarkable thing about the Oscars' newfound inclusiveness is how incongruous it is with the United States' political climate. Donald Trump is in the White House, having ridden there on a wave of backlash against a diversifying country. For the first time in years, there seems to be open and mutual opposition between Hollywood and an American president.
In many ways, this year's Oscar nominations are the anti-Trump — a response to calls for racial equality that delivered more racial equality. The reverse happened in politics last year. Trump and his supporters levied racial animus, fear and legal penalties against protesters calling for equality in their daily lives, resulting in perhaps the most reactionary White House since the Ronald Reagan era.
The chasm between politics and entertainment has rarely seemed wider than it is today. Culture often outpaces politics when it comes to social issues. Films were imagining black people exploring outer space and gay people falling in love, even as real black and gay Americans were fighting for their basic rights in the present.
But this feels different. Trump has repeatedly attacked entertainers who’ve criticized him. He's had choice words for Alec Baldwin, who parodies the president in Saturday Night Live skits. After Meryl Streep gave a speech at the Golden Globe Awards criticizing Trump for mocking a disabled reporter, the president attacked her on Twitter, calling her an "over-rated" actress and a "Hillary flunky who lost big."
In 2016, Trump criticized the conversation sparked by #OscarsSoWhite as essentially another form of racism, claiming he'd seen "numerous black actors and African American actors receive Academy Awards." In an interview on Fox & Friends, he referenced Clueless actor Stacey Dash's assertion that the more pressing problem was getting "rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards, where you're only awarded if you're black."
But aside from Trump, the president’s surrogates and supporters have framed Hollywood backlash against the president in terms of cultural war. Pundits like Tomi Lahren and Meghan McCain have credited Hollywood "elitism" — shorthand for opposition to Trump — with helping Trump win the election, citing the ideological rift between coastal snobs and the citizens of so-called "real America."
"These entitled Hollywood crybabies still don't understand how out of touch they are!" Lahren tweeted after Streep’s speech.
It's notable that these ideological differences hinge on how minorities are treated in public life. Both Hollywood and American politics have done very real damage to people of color in the past — the latter by levying centuries of oppression and disenfranchisement upon them, the former by justifying and perpetuating that oppression through stereotypical representations and limited job opportunities.
The difference now is that Hollywood has grown responsive. Politics has not. It's unclear how long this shift toward diversity in the Oscars will last or whether it's just a trend peddled by an industry that craves favorable attention. What matters, for the time being, is that it's happening. And while the least popular president in recent U.S. history wreaks inevitable havoc on the soul of this country, much of Hollywood has — at least temporarily — dedicated themselves to enriching it.