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Oscar nominees are most diverse yet, marking 'baby steps' toward change

Horace Bowers
Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 21, 2021

This year's Oscar nominees are the most diverse in history, but it's only part of the equation, says Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney Jaia Thomas.

"There has been some progress this year with regards to diversity and all the nominees," says Thomas. "Definitely records that have been broken. We've seen nine people of color who have been nominated for the Best Actor category. We're seeing women nominated for Best Director. There are a lot of firsts in this year's Academy Awards, but is the work done? Absolutely not."

In 2018, Thomas founded Diverse Representation, a resource that provides people with a database of black agents, attorneys, managers, and publicists, all in an effort to make the sports and entertainment worlds more diverse on-screen and off.

"I think a lot of us get really excited when we see people of different backgrounds on screen and I think we always need to do a bit more digging, ask more questions, and just make sure there is diversity at every level, not just at the talent side, but from the CEO on down. That's just critical in terms of really improving things across the board."

Thomas says once the decision-makers in Hollywood become more diverse, that's when the real change will happen.

"They are the ones that have a final say with what gets made and how things are released and what's out there in the marketplace. Over 90% of CEOs, presidents, and senior executives in the film industry are still white, and so as you can see, there's still a lot of work to be done."

ABC15's Nick Ciletti asked Thomas what it's like to forge her own way in the entertainment industry as a person of color and Black female attorney.

"It's definitely been challenging over the years," Thomas says. "And a lot of times, people will underestimate your ability because you don't necessarily look like the average lawyer, or the average executive in this space, but the good thing is, over the past year, since last summer, a lot of companies and organizations within Hollywood are now a lot more open to people from different backgrounds and really trying to ensure that there is more space for and opportunity for people who come from different backgrounds."

And that's a trend Arizona State University film professor Chris LaMont expects to see more of, too.

"The idea that cultural voices, that diverse voices, can be heard on a mainstream level is so important as filmmakers to be able to know that they can tell their stories," LaMont explains. "It's also great the Academy is willing to and excited about celebrating their work as well."

LaMont calls 2021 a "watershed year for Hollywood."

"I think as we move forward, there's that understanding of the audience is not just white. The audience is of all makes, all colors, and all genders. And the more opportunities that the studios and producers give those stories to be told, the better we are as a culture and as a society."

Thomas calls the changes "baby steps," towards progress, but says we are headed in a better direction.

"I think it's going to be an ongoing conversation," she says. "I think these things take time, but I do think every studio and every network is doing something to help address these issues. I hope to see a lot more change and I hope the change is substantive and not just cutting checks and issuing statements and putting black boxes on social media."

Watch the 2021 Oscars when the event airs on ABC15 on Sunday, April 25, 2021.