The Oscars just took a big step away from #OscarsSoWhite. Here's how big.

Once upon a time, white people took every single nomination in every single acting category at the 2015 Academy Awards.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

That's 20 acting slots, for anyone counting.


Then, the following year, a funny thing happened.

Every slot, in every acting category: white person. Again.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

Listen, I'm a white person who has no qualms with white people winning awards. But doesn't two straight years of exclusively white actors snagging nods seem a bit ... much?

Clearly, I wasn't the only one to think so.

In reaction to the Academy's preference for a specific type of actor, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite — coined by April Reign, managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com — was born, calling attention to the obvious inequities reflected in the nominations.

So you can imagine why the internet was waiting with bated breath for the morning of Jan. 24, 2017 — the day this year's nominations were announced.  

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Image.

Fortunately, there were some major improvements to celebrate.

Of the 20 acting nominations, seven were given to people of color — the highest number in a decade.

There's at least one non-white person in every category, with Denzel Washington ("Fences") up for Best Actor and Ruth Negga ("Loving") up for Best Actress.

Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The supporting categories are more diverse, particularly among the actresses, where three of the five slots went to women of color —  Viola Davis (“Fences”), Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”), and Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”). Davis now has three Oscar nominations under her belt, making her the most nominated black actress of all time.

In the best supporting actor category, Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) could become the first Muslim ever to win in this category, while Dev Patel ("Lion") is just the third Indian actor ever to be nominated in any acting category.

Aside from acting, other categories aren't so lily-white this year either.

Four of the best picture nominees — "Hidden Figures," "Lion," "Fences," and "Moonlight," which tells the story of a young, black gay man — feature predominantly non-white casts, while four nominations in the documentary feature category — Ava DuVernay (“13th”), Ezra Edelman (“O.J.: Made in America”), Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”), and Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated”) — went to black artists, The Wrap reported.

What's more, three black writers were nominated in the adapted screenplay category — Barry Jenkins' and Tarell McCraney's "Moonlight," and the late August Wilson's "Fences" — in a category where four of the five nominations went to films with mostly non-white casts.

Filmmaker Barry Jenkins, nominated for "Moonlight." Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Don't get me wrong — plenty of groups remain underrepresented, such as Latinx and Asian artists. As April Reign told the Los Angeles Times, the Oscar nods are much "blacker" — not necessarily a whole lot more diverse — than years past.

Still, this year's nominations do feel like a breath of fresh air.

"This year’s slate of Oscars nominees highlights that, when given the opportunity, films that reflect the diversity of this country will shine," Reign said in a statement, noting she's especially encouraged to see Bradford Young become the first black cinematographer to be nominated for "Arrival," and see films like "Fences," "Lion," "Hidden Figures," and "Moonlight" get the recognition they deserve.

The reason why the Oscars tend to be so white isn't a problem that can be fixed by one year of diverse nominees.

The demographics of the Academy — made up of thousands of industry bigwigs who vote for the winners — is older, very white, and predominantly male. And this shows in which films, and which artists, are nominated.

It certainly doesn't help that even getting the chance to become an Oscar contender is much more difficult for filmmakers and artists from marginalized groups. Hollywood's more hesitant to green-light projects it believes to be more financially risky*, so films and storylines featuring people of color — or LGBTQ characters or women or religious minorities (you get the picture) — get overlooked.

*Important note: Films featuring minorities can and do make money at the box office.

The Academy has a long road ahead in diversifying its membership and better reflecting the world we live in. But it's making progress.

In 2016, after another year of white actors filled every acting slot, the Academy announced major changes in how it will be selecting new voters and managing existing ones, aiming to double "the number of women and diverse members" by 2020.

President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has become a big proponent of diversifying the Oscars. Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for LACMA.

Although 2017 promises to be a more diverse Oscars than the previous two, one year doesn't make up for decades of underrepresentation, as Reign noted. It's important Hollywood recognizes that.

"Films that reflect the nuance and complexity of all theatergoers have been incredibly successful this year, both critically and financially," she said. "It is incumbent upon Hollywood to ensure that more stories like these are told."

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

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This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."