Oscars Not ‘So’ White, Donald Trump, And What Makes The 2017 Oscars Different

Pang Chieh Ho

You know the Oscars is going to be different this year when Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, appeals directly to the Oscar nominees to "stand up to those who try to limit our freedom of expression." The 2017 Oscars is only a little over two weeks away, and already there are many things that make the Oscars different from previous years. From the impact of Donald Trump's immigration order to an increase of racial diversity among the nominees, here are four things that will make the 2017 Oscars memorable.

Oscars Not So White This Year?

Last year, the fact that only white actors and actresses were nominated in the four Oscars actors categories for the second year in a row sparked outrage and discussion over the racial diversity (or more accurately, the lack thereof) in the Academy. The controversy gave birth to the #OscarsSoWhite movement and provoked much industry discussion over how to make Hollywood more inclusive. This year, the Oscar nominations seem to reflect some degree of improvement. Six African-American actors and actresses were nominated in the acting categories, and of the 20 acting Oscars nominees, seven were made up of people of color.

Donald Trump and His Immigration Order Provokes Widespread Protests

On January 27, Donald Trump announced a travel freeze that suspended the entry of refugees into the U.S. and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. The executive order by the new president is arguably his most contentious and has been met with much resistance. The acceptance speeches during the SAG Awards, which followed closely after the announcement of the executive order, addressed the immigration freeze head-on and emphasized inclusion and activism, according to New York Times. Some actions went further as Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti expressed that she wouldn't be attending the 2017 Oscars in protest of Trump's policy. A few days later, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman had been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, declared that he wouldn't be attending the Oscars even if he were allowed to travel to the U.S. from Iran (Iran is one of the countries listed in Trump's immigration order).

The Oscars may have improved its racial diversity this year, but in terms of gender equality, the Academy Awards remains very much a man's game. According to Variety, women made up only 20% of the nominees in the non-acting categories of the Oscars, a two percent drop from last year. There are no female directors nominated in the category of Best Director, which hardly seems surprising as in the 89 years of Oscars history, only four women have been nominated, and only one has won.

The issue of lack of female representation in behind-the-camera professions isn't solely the Oscars' problem and is instead indicative of larger issues of gender inequity in the film industry. Despite increased talks to remedy the gender imbalance in Hollywood, Variety reports that of the directors who helmed the 250 highest-grossing films in 2016, only seven percent were female.

The Return of Mel Gibson and Other Controversies of the Oscars

Any other year, the return of Mel Gibson to the Oscars would have been an even more significant conversation topic than it is now, but 2017 has been fairly irregular in that the drama engendered by the White House has mostly eclipsed the drama of Hollywood. Hacksaw Ridge, Gibson's first directorial effort in ten years, has garnered six Oscars nominations, including one for Gibson for Best Director. The Academy's embracing of the visceral World War II film seems to signify Hollywood's re-acceptance of the actor-director, who, according to Vanity Fair, has largely been considered an industry pariah after a string of incidents in the early 2000s that exposed sentiments of anti-Semitism and misogyny.

Gibson will not be the only controversial figure, however, attending the 2017 Oscars. Last year, allegations of sexual harassment surrounding Casey Affleck, who has been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Manchester by the Sea, began to resurface. Lawsuits against the actor from the producer and cinematographer of Affleck's mockumentary, I'm Still Here, came to light again, and actresses like Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu has been vocal in her excoriations of Affleck and his Oscars nomination.