'Black Panther' Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter Says Oscar Noms' Lack of Diversity Due to Ratings Pressure Amid Shortened Season

The African American Film Critics Association's 11th Annual AAFCA Awards - Getty-H 2020
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Shawn Edwards, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Gil Robertson IV, and Ruth E. Carter pose for portrait at The African American Film Critics Association's 11th Annual AAFCA Awards at Taglyan Cultural Complex on January 22, 2020 in Hollywood, California. 

African American Film Critics Association founder Gil L. Robertson also addressed the mostly white contenders for this year's Academy Awards at the annual AAFCA gala.

The lack of diversity among this year's Oscar nominees was a hot topic at the African American Film Critics Association gala on Wednesday night, with attendees weighing in on the causes and what can be done to create a more inclusive group of contenders.

AAFCA founder Gil L. Robertson said he hopes diverse talent and storytellers stop looking at Hollywood awards shows for validation.

Instead, Robertson suggests artists look to organizations that uplift and focus on communities and voices often left out of the mainstream and take pride in their work regardless of institutional reception. 

“It’s up to us to do for us and not rely on them for our value. Do for yourself — that has to be enough,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “We can’t look at the Oscars for validation.”

The ceremony, held at the Taglyan Cultural Complex in Hollywood, brought together such bold-faced names as Netflix chief creative officer Ted Sarandos, Black List founder Franklin Leonard and Insecure creator-star Issa Rae and celebrated titles including Parasite, Queen & Slim, Dolemite Is My Name and Us. Robertson said the event seeks to not only recognize artists from underserved communities but also acknowledge and thank talent for their creativity as storytellers and performers. 

Among the honorees at the 11th annual AAFCA gala was Matthew Cherry. The NFL star-turned-filmmaker received an Oscar nomination for Hair Love earlier this month and was honored with the AAFCA's breakout filmmaker award. Cherry told THR that though the recognition his short film has gained was unexpected, it also serves to create conversation around black hair and normalizing it. 

“It’s such a tricky thing since our hair is policed and we can’t wear it a certain way at certain events. Some of our kids can’t even wear their hair the way they want for certain schools,” he said. “A project like Hair Love only helps to spread the word." 

Oscar-winning Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter, whose costume designs also graced the screen in Dolemite Is My Name, said that she feels the lack of diversity in Oscars’ major categories was due to a lack of time, noting how this year's awards show is taking place much earlier in the year than it has in the past.

“It makes everyone panic, and they bring in what they know is going to bring in numbers. I think they didn’t have enough time,” she told THR. “I think the idea of ratings actually backfired, and it’s gonna be sad to not see us there.”

The lack of diversity in the recent nods doesn’t necessarily mean the Academy isn’t working to be more inclusive, Carter said, adding that voting members of the Academy do care about inclusivity but can often have limited standards of what Oscar-worthy work might be. She said that change can happen but will be difficult, given “there are lots of people in the Academy that have been there for a long time.”

A difference of standards, Carter said, calls for Academy members to shed light on other kinds of movies that would open up conversations about the kinds of films and other work that may be worthy of awards. 

“It’s about exposure. It’s about showing people that these films are valid for competition,” she said. "It’s all about a competition.” 

The AAFCA ceremony saw Jordan Peele’s Us take home the organization’s best film of 2019, Parasite win best foreign film honors, The Black Godfather tapped as best documentary, The Last Black Man in San Francisco earn the best independent film award and Queen & Slim receive the Impact award.