USC Programs Trace Oscars Past and Work to Change Oscars Future

Images from the 2023 MFA Acting Film Shootl

Photos from the 2023 USC SDA MFA Film Initiative by Ian Dooley.

Two groups at USC are looking back at the history of the Oscars and looking ahead to making future awards more inclusive.

The Adobe Foundation has partnered with USC to ensure that the future of the Academy Awards will be even more inclusive by supporting the next generation of storytellers. The Adobe Foundation has made a grant of $250k to the USC School of Dramatic Arts’ (SDA) MFA Acting Program, which will directly support the production of short films by underrepresented students. The MFA Acting Film Initiative at SDA is a yearlong capstone project where the acting students become armored as multifaceted creators. 

“Our film initiative formalizes the multihyphenate training and gives the actor all the tools they need to become self-generating entrepreneurs in their industry,” said SDA Professor Ahmed Best

 “With a faculty of working professionals second to none, we are able to guide our students to explore their craft, develop their vision as an artist and ensure that they gain the experience and confidence to work in every medium, form or technology,” said David Warshofsky, Director of the MFA Acting program.

Researching Oscar’s Past

Adobe Foundation’s support of USC students comes on the heels of the news the organization is also supporting USC research. Last week, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative announced an exciting partnership with the Adobe Foundation to produce “The Inclusion List,” a new research effort tracking inclusion across the entertainment industry. The first report from the project examines inclusion from 1929—the first of 95 Academy Awards ceremonies—to present day, charting nominations for women and people of color across 19 categories. 

The landmark study is presented on a new website that allows users to understand how gender and race/ethnicity across those 19 categories has changed over time. The full analysis of Oscars history uncovered that only 17% of nominees were women, 6% were people of color, and less than 2% were women of color. However, when the research focused on a more narrow period of time, the results changed.

From 2008 to 2015, the eight years before April Reign sent a tweet launching the #OscarsSoWhite viral call-to-action, 8% of nominees were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. In the eight years following that tweet however, 2015 to 2023, 17% of nominees were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. 

“When April Reign unleashed #OscarsSoWhite, she drew upon the collective desire for change and the outrage that people felt at seeing actors of color excluded from this career-defining award,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Associate Professor of Communication and Founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative “This comprehensive look at the Oscars demonstrates that exclusion was normative for many years and still is in some categories. But it also shows that there is power in collective action, and that power has ensured that the years since #OscarsSoWhite do not look like the years that came before.” The full results of the “The Inclusion List” can be found here

Cross-Campus Partnership

The announcement of the website launch and MFA grant cements a collaborative partnership between the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and the USC School of Dramatic Arts, which began last fall. The partnership draws on the Initiative’s long-standing commitment to research and advocacy to directly benefit SDA’s student body. Through this collaboration, the goal is to create greater pathways into the entertainment industry for SDA’s students from all backgrounds. The groups have worked to leverage data, research-backed solutions, and to drive awareness of SDA’s talented faculty and students to create change.