White feminism strikes again at the Oscars

At the Oscars this week, Emma Stone introduced the five people nominated for Best Director. She proudly spoke the words that either the writers of the telecast provided for her or which she improvised on her own:

“These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year.”

Applause and cheers erupted throughout the room. Online, the emphasis on the one female nominee received praise. But the words overlooked a striking and evident fact. “These four men and Greta Gerwig,” words meant to highlight a woman’s nomination for Best Director, in fact erased the category’s non-white nominees.

Jordan Peele is bi-ethnic but identifies as Black. His life experience therefore includes racial discrimination and finding his identity in a society built without his humanity in mind. His film Get Out is a social commentary on Blackness in America. So often seen as aggressive and criminal, this perception has been used to justify brutality, especially toward Black men. Peele’s film, by contrast, seeks to show Black men as vulnerable, afraid, human — experiences typically invalidated by our society.

Guillermo del Toro, an immigrant from Mexico, won as Best Director for The Shape of Water. He began his acceptance speech by saying:

“I am an immigrant, like many, many of you… I think the greatest thing that our industry does is erase the line in the sand,” the filmmaker said. “We should continue doing that, when the world tells us to make it deeper.”

del Toro was emotional as he accepted his first Oscar, but the irony of the misguided words delivered earlier by Stone still lingered. Later, after he won his second Oscar, for Best Picture, he stated that as a kid, “growing up in Mexico, I thought this could never happen.”

Whoever wrote or thought of them, the words spoken by Stone situated white womanhood at the centre — the overcome-er, the focal point. It neglected the intersectionality of injustice. Awareness of this is the authentic nature of fully realised feminism. Without it, you create a trend, not a movement. Centreing whiteness above the struggles of people of color has been done throughout history, forcing marginalised stories and voices to take a back seat.

In a recent talk with Oprah, Peele described his film as a way for “a lot of white people to experience the world through the black perspective.” Until the recent success of Get Out and Black Panther, movie studios didn’t believe films with people of color at the helm would fill seats, so studios didn’t make them. Those words on Stone’s teleprompter overlooked the social significance of Peele and del Toro’s work and the struggles of people of color. It is not only possible but necessary to praise Gerwig, Peele, del Toro and all the nominees without diminishing people of color.

Dualities can exist when we take strides toward positive change. And genuine movement forward requires inclusivity, not peripheral gazes towards other people’s positions and experiences in society. Gerwig’s well-earned nomination is only the fifth time a woman has been nominated in this category, true, but Peele’s nomination is only the fifth nomination for a Black person in his category — and he won, the first Oscar for a Black screenwriter. Mainstream feminism must choose to see the unique struggles of people of color or else it is not feminism, but a hollow system that discredits the achievements and life experiences of other marginalised people.

The realities of marginalised people must be seen, respected and valued; to ignore these realities is to further discrimination. Exclusivity breeds and encourages invisibility. It’s a pairing that can never allow equality to be the focal point, whereas inclusivity is what will give equity a fighting chance. It’s time to take a note from del Toro and stop drawing lines in the sand.

It’s essential to recognise the breadth of prejudice between groups and to listen to other people’s stories so their hardships, the work they have accomplished while enduring prejudice, and the message of their carefully crafted stories are not erased. Intentional inclusion: that is the only true way forward.

At the end of Oscar night, Best Actress winner Frances McDormand mentioned an “inclusion rider,” a binding document in which actors may require certain types of diversities among cast and crew. After working for 35 years in the film industry, it turns out she’d only heard about this clause recently. Here is how she was quoted in Variety:

“The whole idea of women trending… no. No ‘trending.’ African Americans, ‘trending’? No, no ‘trending.’ It changes now and I think that an inclusion rider will help do that.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Main image: Directors Guillermo del Toro, Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele.

8 responses to “White feminism strikes again at the Oscars

  1. A great article until the complaint that having had only five female nominees is no more egregious than having had only five black nominees in a category. Does Sherrie James think the US has a drastically different sex ratio to the rest of the world?

  2. What a waste of an article. Let’s all race to see who’s the biggest victim, hopefully next year a homosexual black woman can win big and then suddenly everything’s okay?

  3. I don’t get this argument at all. How does Emma Stone’s comment implying the struggles of female directors, somehow deny the struggles of non-white directors? Must every struggle get a guernsey in every comment? Best Director nominee Paul Thomas Anderson had early family and financial issues. Have they been denied as well? The argument is just silly.

  4. Could it be, that they’ve decided that this year they’re going to celebrate women and they forget everything else? Sure, Hollywood is sexist ans racist, but will continue to be so without a big lefty levelling. If next year is black year, they could forget women … Same rich guys in charge …

  5. at last a fresh view of the matter! Broad brush strokes do offend, as a single father I felt like an anomaly way too often as even government ministers argued for the tough lot of those who struggled to bring up children alone, but felt compelled to use female pronouns. Should we abuse a movement that seeks equality between a subclass of two genders who together have way more than most? If child care workers seek a decent wage do we dispute the validity of the cause because uber drivers get even less? Surely that is a race to the bottom. We just have to learn to multitask multiple injustices. If any particular struggle is cringeworthy or inspiring is an individual decision, not a nugget of fact to be unearthed

  6. I love this! Just when you think you’re righteous, it turns out that you’ve trammelled someone else’s right to be righteous. Good luck to those with God on their side as they fight it out to be queen bee.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Newsletter Signup