Oscar winners becoming more diverse, Māori producer says

By Aroha Awarau

Film producer and Wairoa Māori Film Festival board member Louisa Tipene Opetaia says the changes to the Oscars to make them more inclusive is reflected in the diversity of films and individuals who are nominated each year.  

Today’s annual Oscars are like the Olympics for moviegoers around the world. It’s an award that has acknowledged many Māori, including nominations for Keisha Castle Hughes and Taika Waititi’s famous win for best-adapted screenplay in 2020. 

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the group that hands out the Oscars, was forced to mandate a change in its membership in 2015 when it copped a lot of criticism after a large majority of individuals nominated each year were Pākehā.  Today, members are becoming more diverse and even include Māori members Taika Waititi, Cliff Curtis, Keisha Castle Hughes, and most recently Chelsea Winstanley and Ainsley Gardiner.  

“Hollywood has a lot to answer for in terms of those of us Māori who have never been to America, What we know about the place is what we see in Hollywood. It has been limited to stories told from a Pākehā, middle to upper-class perspective.  

The academy received a lot of criticism for that. Oscars so white was trending as a hashtag, and they made a conscious effort to go against that.” 

Walking the talk

Last year, Asian woman Chloé Zhao won the coveted best director award for Nomadland, and the year before that, the Korean film, Parasites, swept the awards, including Best Picture. Even at today’s red carpet event, the first Oscar announced went to Latina queer actress, Ariana DeBose for her role in West Side Story.

“The academy is actually going to walk the talk, it’s going to bring people in who look different, who speak different languages that come from around the world.” 

Tipene Opetaia watched all 10 films nominated for best picture before the ceremony today. Although The Power of the Dog, filmed in Aotearoa and directed by Jane Campion, is the favourite to win, Louisa’s favourite film of the year is Coda, a small story about a deaf family living in America. 

“When I go to the movies, I love to escape from my life. I also love films that can move me emotionally. I love to laugh and I love to cry and Coda did both of those things.”