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Zoë Kravitz floored audiences with her performance as Catwoman in Matt Reeve’s The Batman.

She certainly made a name for herself in the DC universe and delivered a strong performance next to Robert Pattinson. But on March 8, 2022, she took to Instagram to address a comment she made when previously auditioning for a role in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Night Rises in 2012.

“I wanted to AUDITION for a small part in the film and was told (I do not know who said this but this is how it was worded to me) that they were not going ‘urban’ on the part…I truly do not believe anyone meant any harm. I was simply giving an example of what it was like to be a woman of color in this industry at that time.”

While this incident occurred a decade ago, it’s part of a longstanding issue—an issue where people of color often get different treatment than others, from the early stages of a film, such as the audition process, all the way to a finished project which is then judged and awarded at a night such as the Academy Awards.

“#OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair,” activist April Reign tweeted in January 2015, receiving laughter and responses from other Black individuals who shared similar sentiments and understood the inside joke that circulates among people of color. Reign first created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in January 2015 directly after the Academy Award nominations were released. Out of the 20 acting nominations, not one nomination was given to a person of color, bringing to light how Black actresses in particular were brushed-off in Oscar nominations. While many Twitter users laughed along with Reign, the hashtag summarized how many Black people felt, and still feel today, about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) seemed to overlook Black individuals in the film industry.

Throughout the Academy Awards history, Black women in particular have been overlooked and snubbed by Hollywood’s panel that presents the industry’s most prestigious accolades. One of the most prominent examples occurred at the 1986 Oscars.

While Whoopi Goldberg was the first Black individual to receive nominations for both the categories of Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, she lost the nomination for Best Actress in The Color Purple. Although critics and audiences swooned at her performance as Celie—and she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress, and beat out Meryl Streep that same year—it wasn’t enough. Her loss was a surprise to everyone, and many including a vocal Roger Ebert felt Goldberg deserved the award.

A similar situation occurred in 2017 when Hidden Figures was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars. All three categories were lost to other films, but most notably, Taraji P. Henson was not even nominated for Best Actress. This shocked many, considering Henson’s performance as the NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson was highly praised and the film raked in over $155 million at the time of the 2017 Oscars.

Finally, there’s Lupita Nyong’o’s chilling performance in Jordan Peele’s horror film, Us, as both the character Adelaide and the dual role of Adelaide’s doppelgänger. Neither her performance nor the movie in general was nominated for the 2020 Oscar season. However, Nyong’o was nominated and won for her performance of the broken slave, Patsey, in 12 Years a Slave at the 2013 Academy Awards.

Nyong’o’s is one example of a long-lasting trend in Hollywood where many Black actresses only receive nominations and awards for performances that portray Black stereotypes, such as slaves or “down-on-their-luck” wives and mothers. While these performances were both convicting and powerful, any other performances that step out of the Black stereotype of Black pain and suffering are often overlooked. Fitting this trend, Viola Davis won Best Supporting Actress in 2017 for her performance with Denzel Washington in Fences, but was not recognized as Best Actress for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom or Best Supporting Actress in Doubt.

Rare acknowledgment of Black women at the Oscars

In the entire history of Best Actresses, only one Black woman has ever won it in the Academy Awards 94-year history—Halle Berry for her role in the 2001 film Monster’s Ball. During her acceptance speech at the 74th Academy Awards in 2002, she said through tears, “This moment is so much bigger than me. It’s for every nameless, faceless, woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”

In February 2022, Berry was interviewed again about her award. After 20 years of still being the only Black actress to win Best Actress, she said, “I do feel completely heartbroken that there’s no other woman standing next to me in 20 years. I thought, like everybody else, that night meant a lot of things would change. That there would be other women . . . no other woman is standing there.”

In 2018 at the Women In The World conference, Davis also commented on the lack of diversity. She ended the night revealing her experience working as a Black woman in Hollywood.

“I got the Oscar, I got the Emmy, I got the two Tony’s. I’ve done Broadway, I’ve done off-Broadway, I’ve done TV, I’ve done film—I’ve done all of it. I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver. They had the same path as me,” she told host Tina Brown. “And yet, I am nowhere near them. I have to get on that phone, and people say, ‘You’re a Black Meryl Streep . . . There’s no one like you.’ Okay, then if there’s no one like me, you give me what I’m worth. Because when I delve into a role, I want something complicated, too.”

This year, at the 94th Academy Awards, on Sunday, March 27, the AMPAS has ironically selected two Black women among the three hosts for the ceremony (Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes). But out of the numerous nominations this film season, there are only two women of color nominated—Aunjanue Ellis for her role in King Richard and Ariana DuBose for West Side Story. There were no Black women nominated for Best Actress despite much-praised performances from Jennifer Hudson in Respect and Ruth Negga in Passing.

Lately, the Academy has publicized that it has made strides to include diversity on the board, but it’s unclear what this means and how effective it will be considering the current nominations have yet to reflect the diversity it claims to be harvesting.

While the Awards used to acknowledge those who win, many no longer trust the Academy to determine what makes a meaningful film, or what connects ideas, stories, and people to each other. Though the Oscars are a highlight of the year for many of Hollywood’s stars, directors, filmmakers, and producers, many actors and actresses have been skipping the event altogether. As the Oscars fail to recognize talented performers of an entire subset of the population, one can only expect viewers to continue to tune out as well.