Oscars red carpet lacks diversity

charlize theron
Charlize Theron arrived at the 2016 Oscar awards wearing a red Dior gown with a plunging neckline.

By Alexandra Whittaker

Although Hollywood stars dressed to impress for the red carpet before Sunday’s 2016 Oscars telecast, many failed to dazzle. A few stars stood out among the conservatively dressed crowd, but most played it safe by sticking to darker colors and designers they wore before.

Armani Prive gowns dominated the red carpet, which was unsurprising. A data analysis of red carpet looks by Racked, an online fashion magazine, showed that Armani was the most represented designer on red carpets over the past three years. The Oscars’ red carpet was no exception, since Armani is a favorite of many nominated Hollywood actresses. This year they included Charlotte Rampling and Cate Blanchett, who wore a memorable sea green Armani Prive gown with floral embellishments.

Like Blanchett, who frequently wears Armani gowns, many actresses picked red carpet looks from designers they normally wear. Charlize Theron, the face of Dior, predictably wore a red Dior gown with a deep V-neckline and a long train. Julianne Moore once again favored Chanel on the red carpet, wearing a black lacy dress with a sparkle neckline.

Most Worn Designers at Awards Shows

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The data shows which designers were worn most often by actresses to the Oscars, the Grammys, the Screen Actor Guild Awards, the Golden Globes and the People’s Choice Awards in the past three years. Source: Cameron Wolf/Racked. (Alexandra Whittaker/MEDILL)

In a more unconventional turn, “Carol” costume designer Sandy Powell paid homage to David Bowie with a look that caused some news outlets to confuse her with actress Tilda Swinton, an eccentric red carpet dresser. Powell paired a bright teal pantsuit with bright orange hair. Her look was one of the few women’s pantsuits on the red carpet.

While the red carpet looks remained more conventional, many viewers were focused on Giuliana Rancic and Ryan Seacrest’s more unconventional red carpet questions. Leading up to the Oscars, the Representation Project, an advocacy group that uses film and media to combat gender stereotypes, launched a campaign encouraging red carpet hosts to ask actresses deeper questions than “Who are you wearing?” The hash tag #AskHerMore trended on Twitter before Sunday night’s ceremony.

The #AskHerMore campaign is supported by celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Amy Poehler, but not everyone is a fan. In his opening monologue, comedian Chris Rock, host of the Oscars telecast,  questioned the necessity of #AskHerMore and said not everything is about sexism and racism.

Sandy Powell
Costume designer Sandy Powell arrived at the 2016 Oscars in an outfit paying homage to David Bowie. (Aaron Poole/A.M.P.A.S.)

“They ask the men more because the men are all wearing the same outfits. Every man is wearing the exact same thing,” said an exasperated Rock. “If George Clooney showed up with a lime green tux on and a swan coming out of his ass, somebody would go, ‘What you wearing, George?'”

Rancic and Seacrest seemed to respond to #AskHerMore and focused their questions on more than just gowns. They held their fashion questions to the very end of their interviews, and asked both men and women about their outfits.

Despite this, the red carpet questions largely neglected to mention the elephant in the room—the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that  prompted Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith to boycott the Oscars altogether. The closest Rancic and Seacrest came to addressing the question of diversity among the award nominees was a discussion of young actress Saoirse Ronan’s heritage.

Actress Cate Blanchett arrived at the 2016 Oscars in an Armani Prive gown. Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress for her role in the movie "Carol." (Aaron Poole/A.M.P.A.S.)
Actress Cate Blanchett wore an Armani Prive gown  at the 2016 Oscars.  Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress for her role in the movie “Carol.” (Aaron Poole/A.M.P.A.S.)

Ronan, who wore an emerald green Calvin Klein dress with a plunging neckline and skin-baring cutouts, said her outfit reflected pride in her Irish heritage.

“Everyone comes from somewhere else,” said Ronan. “We all came off the boat.”

The distinct lack of red carpet discussion about diversity echoed the lack of diversity among the celebrities’ chosen designers.

Gowns by such relativelyower profile designers as Narciso Rodriguez, Tadashi Shoji, DSquared2 and Moschino were notably absent from the red carpet as stars favored more conventional gowns from large European design houses such as Armani, Dior and Chanel.

As Cameron Wolf of Racked said in his red carpet data analysis, “A star can utter an unfamiliar name into the microphone and erupt millions of Google searches. Or an established house like Armani, Versace and Valentino can worm into the back of the viewer’s mind, nestling there until they think about which designer they should wear to their own personal Oscars.”

Photo at top: Actress Charlize Theron arrived at the 2016 Oscar awards wearing a red Dior gown with a plunging neckline. (Aaron Poole/A.M.P.A.S.)