How Artists of Color Made Race Matter at the 90th Oscars

By Sameer Rao Mar 05, 2018

Actors, filmmakers and other artists donned their most glamorous attire for the 90th Academy Awards last night (March 4). Social justice messages dominated the Oscars, as many winners and presenters used their time in the spotlight to highlighting the importance of inclusion. Here are the people who broke barriers and centered racial justice during the ceremony.

The Awards

Get Out” writer and director Jordan Peele made history as the first Black screenwriter to win the Best Writing (Original Screenplay) award. He dedicated his statue to “all the people who raised my voice and let me make this movie”:

Peele lost the award for Best Director to Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro for his Best Picture winner, “The Shape of Water.” “I am an immigrant,” del Toro said in his speech. “I think that the greatest thing that our industry does is erase the lines in the stand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.”

Coco,” the first feature-length Pixar film with a protagonist of color, earned the Best Animated Feature award. “With ‘Coco,’ we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do,” said director Lee Unkrich in his acceptance speech. “Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation matters.”


Chilean film “A Fantastic Woman,” which tells the story of a trans woman as she fights discrimination following the death of her partner, won the foreign language film Oscar.


When Frances McDormand ("Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri") took the stage to accept her award for best actress in a leading role, she asked all nominated women to stand, then ended her speech with two words: “inclusion rider.” She broke down the importance of those two words backstage, saying that this rider will help ensure that Black people and women leading movies will not be reduced to a trend.


Filipino-American songwriter Robert Lopez and his wife and writing partner Kristen Anderson-Lopez won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “Remember Me,” from Coco. The win makes Lopez the first person to ever win the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) twice. He is also the youngest person to pull the EGOT (he was 39 when he completed his first time around) and the fastest (it took him just 10 years).

Other winners of color include Japanese make-up artist Kazuhiro Tsuji (“Darkest Hour”) for Best Makeup and Hairstyling—the first Asian artist to win in that category—and basketball star Kobe Bryant (“Dear Basketball”) for Best Short Film (Animated). Many social media users criticized the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for awarding Bryant, who was charged with sexual assault in 2003

Find a full list of winners and nominees at

The Presentations

Presenters Lupita Nyong’o (“Black Panther”) and Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”) gave a shout out to immigrant beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during the ceremony. “Dreams are the foundation of America,” Nyong’o said. “And so, to all the Dreamers out there: we stand with you,” Nanjiani continued. 

The Academy also featured several presenters of color who opened doors for their communities. They included Rita Moreno (“West Side Story”), Wes Studi (“Penny Dreadful”) and Daniela Vega (“A Fantastic Woman”).

Conversations about #MeToo, Hollywood equity and representation converged in a pre-taped segment dedicated to uplifiting the stories of the marginalized. Ava DuVernay (“A Wrinkle in Time”), Dee Rees (“Mudbound”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), Nanjiani and other artists discussed how people of color and all women fight erasure in entertainment. The clip came after actresses Ashley Judd (“Twin Peaks”), Annabella Sciorra (“Mental”) and Salma Hayek (“Beatriz at Dinner”)—all of whom accused producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment—predicted “limitless possibilities of equality, diversity, inclusion [and] intersectionality,” for the future.

The Music

The Oscars highlighted the work of #MeToo founder Tarana Burke by featuring her alongside nine other activists as Common and Andra Day performed “Stand Up for Something.” That song, from the “Marshall” soundtrack, was one of five nominated in the Best Music (Original Song) category. Burke graced the stage with Black Lives Matter Global Network co-founder Patrisse Cullors, journalist Janet Mock and others listed in the following tweet:

Watch a video of the performance below: 

Mary J. Blige—the first person ever nominated for a song and a supporting acting role in the same year—moved the Oscars audience with a rousing performance of “Mighty River" from the “Mudbound” soundtrack:

Singer and actress Keala Settle, who is of Maori descent, performed a rousing version of “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” in which she also stars: 

Blige, Common and Settle lost the Original Song award to “Remember Me.” African- and Mexican-American singer Miguel performed that song with actor Gael Garcia Bernal (“Mozart in the Jungle”) and musician Natalia Lafourcade, both of whom are from Mexico: 

The Ad

#HereWeAre trended on Twitter after the social media platform aired an ad during the Oscars that featured DuVernay, Issa Rae (“Insecure”), Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust) and other female artists celebrating their voices. The spot is scored by spoken-word poetry from Denice Frohman: