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By Jenna Caldwell | 2/23/17 11:18am | Updated 2/23/17 11:46am
Melissa Kelley/American Word Magazine

The public tweeted and the academy responded. Just two years after the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite became a viral sensation in response to the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity, things are finally changing.

One year ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted to increase the diversity of its membership. By 2020, the number of women and people of color in its membership will be doubled. The academy made the decision to increase the diversity of the people voting to nominate films. This decision came after the organization failed to nominate any people of color for their 20 acting awards in 2016.

School of International Service Professor Omekongo Dibinga believes that the awards diversified because of the social media backlash following the 2016 awards. “The fact of the matter is that the Oscar nominating committee is overwhelmingly white, male and elderly,” Dibinga said. “People are going to vote on what resonates with their experiences, and the experiences many of these committee members have had is light-years away from the experiences of most films by people of color that they see.”

With the release of the 2017 Oscar nominations, the academy is sticking to its pledge by nominating a diverse series of films and a diverse range of actors and actresses. For the first time in history, an actor of color has been nominated in every single acting category. Several cinematic masterpieces starring people of color are in the running for best picture. These include “Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins, which received eight Oscar nominations, “Lion,” directed by Garth Davis, with six nominations, “Fences,” directed by and starring Denzel Washington, with four nominations, and “Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi, with three.

While many are rejoicing over the nominations these films have received, others question its legitimacy. Star of “Moonlight,” Mahershala Ali, expressed concern over his first Oscar nomination: “I hope I wasn’t nominated because I was black. That has no relevance. I hope I was nominated for my work.”

It is difficult to differentiate between being recognized for your work and being recognized to fill a quota. Yet, the film “Hidden Figures,” also featuring Mahershala Ali, raked in over $83 million in the box office. Because of its monetary success, the academy could not ignore this film and the social and cultural impact it made on society.

Not only are major categories like best picture, actor or actress recognizing overlooked talent, but so is the documentary category. Directed entirely by people of color, these documentaries are aimed at educating the masses on many issues directly affecting minority communities. The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” voiced by Samuel L. Jackson and based on the late James Baldwin’s unfinished novel “Remember This House,” is nominated for an award. Also nominated is Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America,” Roger Ross Williams’ “Life, Animated” and Gianfranco Rosi’s “Fire at Sea.”

When asked if the quota implemented by the academy is a sort of Hollywood affirmative action, Dibinga said he could care less. “The Oscars have become completely irrelevant to me. I'd rather focus on the NAACP Image Awards or other shows where groups of color are honored,” he said. “As black people, we need to honor our own. I'm tired of us looking for others to validate us. I do believe this is some form of affirmative action, but I'm just tired of us waiting to be validated by mainstream society. We'll get validated once we validate ourselves.”

Whether one believes this push for growing diversity within the academy is well-deserved or a way to fill the quota demand, films that have been ignored for years because of their cast make-up are finally getting the recognition that many of their predecessors were not fortunate enough to receive.