And, the Oscar goes To...Another White woman
It’s Women’s History Month yet women are a long way from unity and equity, especially in Hollywood. I am not debating whether Andrea Riseborough deserved her Oscar nomination or if Viola Davis or Danielle Deadwyler were overlooked. Yet, “alliances” like those in support of Riseborough’s Oscar nomination may harm the unity between women of all races needed to achieve gender equity.
Alliances occur when people who share a racial or gender category unite to help someone in their group accomplish a goal. This happened when Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Amy Adams, Charlize Theron, and other White women helped Andrea Riseborough obtain an Oscar nomination. Of course, these women may deny that their support of Riseborough had anything to do with race or gender. They may say that they spent their own money, launched social media campaigns, and hosted private screenings because of Riseborough’s sublime “stay in your bones” performance. That could very well be true, yet they would still be missing a crucial point. Multiple things can be true at once. It can be true that:
Riseborough delivered a spectacular performance in a great movie.
White women used their networks on Riseborough’s behalf.
Riseborough would not have been nominated without those networks.
White women have not been as generous with their networks when it comes to Black women actors or other women actors of color.
White women actors claim feminism and support for ALL women yet since the inception of the Best Actress Award, 77 of the 78 recipients have been White women (with Halle Berry being the one woman of color receiving the Best Actress Award in the history of the Academy).*
Let that sink in. 98.7% of the Best Actress Awards have been awarded to White women. When is enough, enough? At what point will White women begin using their networks to uplift women from all racial backgrounds?
This isn’t just about Hollywood. This extends to corporate America, pay equity, and more. Throughout history White women have helped each other while being unsupportive of and destroying trust with Black women and other women of color. For example, during the suffrage movement, White women were sacrificed Black women to secure White women’s voting rights. More recently, White women have consistently voted to uphold the racial power structure, refusing to support candidates running on platforms around providing more equal opportunity. What happened this year at the Oscars is not new. It is merely a reflection of the inequities that Black women and other women of color face every day.
As with the campaign of Andrea Riseborough, White women in positions of power or leadership may not use the power that they have gained to uplift women from historically marginalized racial groups. Organizations often discuss the gender pay gap, yet, rarely by race. If we are to believe in feminism, when will White women join in interracial solidarity so that all women achieve equity? When will be honest about this quote by novelist Kim McClarin: “This is what black women know: When push comes to shove, white women choose race over gender: Every. Single. Time.”
At a visceral level, many Black women and many women of color do not trust White women. Perhaps White women are also wary of women of color, I cannot speak to that. I can say that if trust is to be built, White women must dig into why they think about race and gender the way that they do and why they ACT the way that they do towards women from historically marginalized racial backgrounds. And, then change. In the specific case of the White women who campaigned for Riseborough, did you even consider that you might campaign for women from backgrounds who have only earned 1.3% of all Best Actress Awards?
Ms. Paltrow. Ms. Blanchett, Ms. Adams, and Ms. Theron and so many others have inspired many of us both on and off the screen, breathing life into characters and causes that have empowered us to honestly look at ourselves and each other, even the ugly parts. On this International Women’s Day (Women’s History Month) and with the Oscar stage at their feet, I hope that each of these actors will use their immeasurable talents and power to activate their networks and inspire change in such a systemic and spectacular fashion that all women will benefit.
*Hollywood statistics cited are from the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report 2021