#SWAAYthenarrative
4 Min Read
Culture

Due to the coronavirus emergency, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is postponing the 2021 Oscars to April 25 rather than the usual late February date. The eligibility period will also extend to February 28 instead of late December to account for the months in quarantine. As the United States confronts a pandemic and increasing attention on systemic racism at all levels of our society, the more interesting question is how (or if) will this high caliber ceremony systematically change to address its own history of racism and cultural bias and how (or if) the nominees will reflect a more diverse collection of perspectives.

The question is: what role will the academy play in amplifying BIPOC voices in the industry?

The pandemic has largely put a pause on film productions across the board, not just mainstream Hollywood. Due to this reality, the Academy will now consider films that premiered digitally and those which did not have a seven-day run in Los Angeles theaters as is typically required for consideration. The delay is good news for those who can run expensive movie campaigns, which is necessary after the cancelation of the Cannes Film Festival among others that are platforms for movies to promote themselves. Meanwhile, indie releases remain under the radar. Vox writer Alissa Wilkinson writes, "It's either the built-in marketing of a franchise film that brings a movie to the average audience member's attention, or it's the imprimatur of the Oscars that tells you this movie is 'important' in some way." She argues that instead, the Oscars should amplify movies the public would have otherwise missed.

Perhaps the 2021 edition of the Oscars will amplify films which have been released on streaming services and are now eligible for nominations but are often overlooked year after year. Even without the extension, there are plenty of eligible movies. IndieWire outlines the current 20 best movies; the list is overwhelmingly white with few exceptions including Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods which is already being predicted to be nominated for Best Picture.

The academy's chief executive, Dawn Hudson, tells The New York Times "For over a century, movies have played an important role in comforting, inspiring and entertaining us during the darkest of times. They certainly have this year." That's an understatement if I have ever seen one. Art often reflects the pulse of society at the given moment, so it's undeniable that in-progress films are bound to discuss systemic racism and police brutality. The question is: what role will the academy play in amplifying BIPOC voices in the industry?

Following the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests across the country, the Academy is taking seemingly more concrete steps towards change by developing on an initiative called "Academy Aperture 2025," which aims to increase diversity and inclusion in the organization itself, as well as the films nominated. However, the new initiative will not be in effect for the 2021 Oscars, but four years later in 2025.

CEO Dawn Hudson's words refer to the organization's performative changes, but not systemic changes, which, hopefully, the new Aperature will address.

On their website, the Academy outlines Aperature 2025 which will include unconscious bias training, making the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures an anti-racist organization, establishing an Office of Representation, Inclusion, and Equity, as well as continuing partnerships with diverse suppliers and investors. The Academy will also set a ten movie requirement for Best Picture, a category that often oscillates between five and ten each year. This movie could increase the likelihood that films with non-white stars or creators are nominated.

Part of the new program will also include a series of panels discussing race and ethnicity entitled "Academy Dialogue: It Starts with Us," a talk led by board member Whoopi Goldberg that will discuss racist stereotypes in films, and a 12-term maximum for members on the Board of Governors. Director Ava Duvernay and Oscars producer Lynette Howell Taylor are now on the board of governors, increasing the number of female governors to 26 out of 54 and POC to 12.

Dismantling racism (in the film industry and everywhere) comes from alterations in how a system functions, not surface level posts on social media.

In addition to diversifying the board of governors, the academy welcomes 819 artists and executives to become members this year, doubling the number of women members and tripling the number of underrepresented ethnic and racial communities. However, only 19% of the current members are POC.

CEO Dawn Hudson explains that "while the Academy has made strides, we know there is much more work to be done in order to ensure equitable opportunities across the board." The Best Picture awards that went to Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave and Barry Jenkin's Moonlight were moments of hope in the 93-year-old organization, but the fact remains these are the only two films by Black directors to have ever won Best Picture. Not to mention, no Black director has ever won Best Director, nor have any Black women even been nominated in this category. Hudson's words refer to the organization's performative changes, but not systemic changes, which, hopefully, the new Aperature will address.

The Oscars are not new to conversations on race. Many remember the 2015 viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite created by activist April Reign that brought to the forefront how white, elitist, and exclusionary the academy is after all 20 nominations went to white actors for the second year in a row. Five years later, the academy is beginning to take larger systemic steps to become a more diverse and inclusive organization. After all, dismantling racism (in the film industry and everywhere) comes from alterations in how a system functions, not surface level posts on social media. It is time that white actors, directors, and producers ask themselves why, when it comes time to vote, the pool of candidates is so often overwhelmingly white and male. It is time members of the academy answer this question and use their responses to dismantle racism rather than upholding the same old system many of them have been unfairly benefitting from.
5 min read
Self

Lessons Learned and the Power of Turning 50

Except for 16, I have celebrated all of my milestone birthdays in New York City.

I turned 16 in Arnold, Missouri. Arnold is a small town (though not small anymore) 20 miles south of St. Louis. St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch, a beautiful arch of shiny stainless steel, built by the National Parks Service in 1935 to commemorate Thomas Jefferson's vision of a transcontinental U.S. St. Louis is also known for its custard, a frozen dessert that is so thick, they hand it to you upside down with a spoon inside. Something else about St. Louis you should know is that there is a courthouse just steps from the base of the Gateway Arch where one of the most important cases in history was tried: Dred Scott v. Sanford.

I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive.

Mr. Scott was born into enslavement around 1799 and, in 1830, was sold to a military surgeon who traveled back and forth between his military posts in Illinois and Wisconsin, where slavery was prohibited under the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1842 the doctor and Mr. Scott both married, and they, all four, returned to St. Louis. Still enslaved, Dred Scott filed a lawsuit against the doctor's wife for his and his wife Harriet's freedom. We don't know exactly why he chose this moment in time to file a lawsuit, however, he did. At the time of filing his, now, famous lawsuit, he was 50 years old. Ultimately, The Scott family did not gain their freedom, but their profound courage in filling this case helped ignite the Civil War and what we would come to know (or think we know) as freedom from enslavement for all human beings. Powerful then and even more powerful now.

My next milestone was turning 21, and I did it in the Big Apple. Having only moved to "the city that never sleeps" a few months prior, I knew nobody except my new friends, the bus-boys from the restaurant I was working at, Patzo's on the Upper West Side. And, yes, pazzo is actually the correct spelling of the Italian word, which translates to "crazy." Trust me we all had several laughs about the misspelling and the definition going hand in hand. I worked a full shift, closing out at around 11 PM, when, my kitchen team came out from the line with a cake singing, "Cumpleaños Feliz." It was fantastic. And the kindness of these almost-strangers was a powerful reminder of connection then as it still is today almost 29 years later.

I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy.

When I turned 30, I had just finished a European tour with Lucinda Childs dance company. The company had been on tour for months together and were inseparable. We traveled through Paris, Vienna, Lisbon, and Rome. We ate together, we rode on a bus together, we had drinks after shows together, and we even took turns giving company class to get warmed up before a show. It was deeply meaningful and dreamy. We ended the tour back in New York City at BAM, The Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was an incredible way to end the tour, by being on our home court, not to mention I was having an important birthday at the culmination of this already incredible experience.

So, when I invited everyone to join me at Chelsea Pier's Sky Rink to ice skate in late August, I was schooled really quickly that "tour" does not mean you are friends in real life, it means you are tour friends. When the tour ends, so does the relationship. I skated a few laps and then went home. This was a beautiful lesson learned about who your real friends are; it was powerful then as it is today.

Turning 40 was a completely different experience. I was in a serious relationship with my now-husband, Joe. I had just come off of a successful one-woman dance show that I produced, choreographed, and danced in, I had just choreographed a feature film, John Turturro's Romance and Cigarettes, with A-list actors, including Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, who became a dear friend and had even been on the red carpet with Susan Sarandon at the Venice Film Festival for the movie a year earlier.

And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age.

This was a very special birthday, and I had, in those 10 years between 30 and 40, come to cultivate very real friendships with some wonderful colleagues. We all celebrated at a local Italian restaurant, Etcetera Etcetera (who is delivering for those of you in NYC — we order weekly to support them during COVID), a staple in the theater district. Joe and I were (and are) regulars and, of course, wanted to celebrate my 40th with our restaurant family and friends. We were upstairs in the private room, and it was really lovely. Many of those in attendance are no longer with us, including Joe's Dad, Bob Ricci, and my dear friend Jim Gandolfini having transitioned to the other side. Currently, that restaurant is holding on by a thread of loving neighbors and regulars like us. Life is precious. Powerful then and today even more so.

I write this article because I'm turning 50, still in New York City. However, I'm turning 50 during what I define as a miraculous time to be alive. And I could not be more filled with hope, love, possibility, and power. This year has included an impeachment hearing, a global pandemic, and global protests that are finally giving a larger platform to the Black Lives Matter movement. Being able to fully embody who I am as a woman, a 50-year-old woman who is living fully in purpose, takes the cake, the rink, and the party.

I'm making movies about conversations around race. I've been happily married for 11 years to the love of my life, Joe Ricci. I'm amplifying and elevating the voices of those who have not previously had a platform for speaking out. I choose who to spend time with and how long! I design the life I desire and the Universe creates it for me every day. I show up, keep the story moving, and work hard because I am relentlessly devoted to making the world a better place and this is how I choose to leave my legacy. Being 50 is one of the most amazing things I ever thought I could experience. And I encourage all women to identify their power and choose to be fully in your power at any age. I'm 50 and powerful. Dred Scott was 50 and powerful. This powerful lesson is for today and tomorrow. We have the power. No matter what age you are, I invite you to use your powerful voice to join me in making the world a better place.