Regina King, Amandla Stenberg, and More Reflect on 4 Years of #OscarsSoWhite
"We could do better," King says.
It’s been four years since #OscarsSoWhite kicked off on social media. Since then, films like Black Panther and Black KkKlansman have snagged nominations and actors like Regina King and Mahershala Ali have landed nods, too.
While there have been noticeable changes in terms of available roles for people of color, specifically those acknowledged by the Academy, the industry still has a long way to go (there hasn’t been a Black Best Actress winner since Halle Berry took it home in 2002, for example).
We chatted with actresses in the industry about just that and more at Alfre Woodard’s 10th Annual Oscars Sistahs' Soiree at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel Wednesday night, a powerful event centered around sisterhood that the Oscar winner hosts annually to celebrate “African American women and women of color who have ever been nominated for an acting Oscar and those, who in a perfect world, should have been.”
Each year, Woodard selects two actresses to honor at the event. This year, Amandla Stenberg and King took home those honors. After a cocktail hour, the group of women retreat into their penthouse suite for the ultimate girls’ night in and spend the night bonding and talking.
When asked whether she has seen a shift in the industry for opportunities for people of color, King replied, “Yes and no.” She continued, “I feel like there are more outlets now, so if there are more outlets then I guess we should be seeing more things, so the ratio of outlets to how many people of color we see in front of or behind the camera … I don’t know that we’ve made a significant shift. I mean I’m in a film where the subject matter was written 45 years ago and it still feels relevant right now in this moment. We could do better. We all can.”
CCH Pounder — an industry vet — called the upward trajectory of opportunities for people of color “very slow.” Still, she said, it has created a new energy among people of color in the industry to create their own opportunities. “I think what's really important Is that many of us have decided you don't have to have a million dollar film, that I'm just going to go ahead and make what I want to make with my ideas with what I have,” she told us. “And if I've got to make it on a cell phone on a little DSLR 5D or whatever I am going to make it because I want to make it. And I think that has changed the game and I think it will change the game even further.”
Meanwhile, Stenberg dished on how she’s seen #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo create changes in the industry, saying, “I think there's a level of accountability.” She continued, “Once in a while I’m shocked when I see that there is behavior happening that you would think would be different in this climate. And then I have to remember that I'm blessed, because I've come at a time when accountability is a part of the industry and it's like for me it's the baseline.”
“I have noticed some really misogynistic or sexist behavior specifically from white men, and it’s surprising, but I also feel like I have noticed certain changes, especially now that the implementation of accusing inclusion riders, that’s shifting the way people even think about the set as a workplace and think about the industry and think about the power of representation and I’m witnessing that.
The challenges that come with navigating the industry as a woman, specifically a woman of color, are what make events like Woodard’s so special. Those adversities have created a bond among women in the entertainment industry. Although Woodard wasn’t able to host the event for the first time due to a work commitment, the event went off with a hitch with the same warmth she brings to it still in the room.
Rosario Dawson gave a big hug to Lorraine Toussaint as she strolled inside the penthouse suite smiling and waving in a printed dress. Tessa Thompson sat close to her friend Stenberg after greeting her excitedly. Tiffany Haddish made everyone laugh per usual as she cracked jokes on a whim, King gave a big long hug to Tina Lifford, and Edwina Findley showed off her pregnant belly for the first time, calling it her “coming out party.”
When asked why Woodard’s 10th annual event was so important, Toussaint, who co-hosted the evening with Pounder, said, “When these women are standing on the carpet: the carpet can be scary, the carpet can be primarily white, the carpet can be daunting.” She continued, “When you're standing across the carpet and you see one of us and we make eye contact and that eye contact says I’ve got you girl. I've got you baby girl. Enjoy the moment dance and frolic and swish and sashay. Because you are now part of something. You are part of a line of women that have walked and that will walk and we now charge you with passing the baton.”
“Not passing the baton, lighting each other’s torches,” Dawson chimed in with a big smile, before dishing on how much she admires Toussaint. “I want to just celebrate how amazing someone can be in every aspect of her life and not just in these moments, but in every moment. To take that opportunity to share and not just for yourself but to take the opportunity to spark that joy, and that generosity and that community is what's going to save the world because we’ve lived under this fallacy of self-promotion and self-realization for too long. We are interdependent, but we need each other and that's a beautiful thing. It's not something that's weak it's actually very powerful. We cannot live without each other.”
“Women need each other,” Toussaint added.
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Stenberg, who attended the event for the second time, echoed those sentiments, saying, “It's wild to feel so invested and included and supported and loved by a community of powerful women. I don't think there's any other space where I feel like I do in this space.”
“It's really unique and really powerful and there's so much love. And there's room here to be authentic in a way you can't necessarily be when you're navigating Hollywood as a Black woman.”