December 11, 2018, 4:08

Is the Era of #OscarsSoWhite Over? |

Is the Era of #OscarsSoWhite Over? |

April Reign isn’t satisfied. Three years ago, the activist started the
hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, in response to an all-white slate of acting
nominees. The next year, another all-white list revived the hashtag and
sent the Academy into a tailspin, resulting in an ambitious membership
overhaul to diversify the voting body by race, gender, geography, and age. In
2017, the year “Moonlight” beat “La La Land” for Best Picture, the
Academy invited nearly eight hundred new
per cent female and thirty per cent non-white—among them Riz Ahmed,
Dwayne Johnson, Leslie Jones, and Ruth Negga. Oh, and it lost one Harvey

The nominations announced this morning, for the ninetieth Academy
Awards, reflect a
changed—but not transformed—Academy. After all, the voters are still
predominantly white and
twenty-eight per cent are female, and only thirteen per cent are
non-white. Some more caveats: Oscar nominees hardly represent a
cross-section of the industry. There are still woefully underrepresented
groups, among them Hispanics, as the Times highlighted this past weekend. Two years in a row of diversified acting nominees
don’t quite make a trend. And, as Reign
tweeted this morning:

Until we are no longer lauding “firsts” after a 90 year history, until
we can no longer count a traditionally underrepresented community's
number of nominations in a particular category on our fingers,
#OscarsSoWhite remains relevant. The fight continues.

One of the “firsts” she was alluding to was Rachel Morrison, who became
the first woman ever to be nominated for Best Cinematography,
for the beautifully shot “Mudbound.” The acting categories are—phew!—not
all-white, with Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”) and Mary J. Blige
(“Mudbound”) in Best Supporting Actress and Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”)
and Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”) in Best Actor.
Washington’s surprise nomination—his eighth, a record for any black
actor—may have something to do with the absence of James Franco, who
during the nomination period was accused by five
women of sexually inappropriate behavior.

The directing category was always going to be a heart-breaker: there are
a maximum of ten slots for Best Picture but only five for directors. Greta
Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) were both overlooked
in the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, and yet both were nominated
for the Oscar, along with the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (“The
Shape of Water”). Gerwig is the fifth female director ever to be
nominated, and only Kathryn Bigelow has won, for “The Hurt Locker.”
That’s a paltry record, but at least no one will have to repeat Natalie
Portman’s line from the Golden Globes: “And here are the all-male
nominees. . . . ” Peele is the fifth black directing nominee; none have
won, including “Moonlight” ’s Barry Jenkins. The shocker in
this category was the absence of Martin McDonagh, whose “Three
Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has been on an unexpected awards
tear; its star, Frances McDormand, is still the favorite for Best
Actress, for playing a complicated heroine who embodies the rage and
resolve of the #TimesUp movement.

This year’s nominees also include an eighty-nine-year-old gay
screenwriter, nominated for adapting a gay love story (James
“Call Me by Your Name”); a Pakistani-American comedian, nominated with
his wife for transforming the story of their courtship into a
culture-clash rom-com (Kumail
Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, “The Big Sick”); a feature-length documentary by a
black transgender director (Yance
“Strong Island”); and the first black woman in forty-five years to be
nominated for a screenplay award (Dee Rees, “Mudbound”).

All of which adds up to a broad showcase of talent from people from
different walks of life. Another shuffle of the ballots might have
included Hong Chau (“Downsizing”), Salma Hayek (“Beatriz at Dinner”),
the gay director Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me by Your Name”), or Tiffany
Haddish (“Girls Trip”)—who was a welcome presenter at this morning’s
announcements. The Best Picture nominations might also have included
“The Florida Project,” Sean Baker’s stunning portrait of poverty in
America, which will be represented only by Willem Dafoe, who received a Supporting Actor nomination. Reign is
correct that, as long as we’re counting on one hand, diversity pioneers
are still exceptions to the rule. And it’s not easy to be an
exception—ask Sidney Poitier, who said, in 1964, “Ever since I won the
Oscar, the only questions the press seems to be interested in are what
my feelings and actions are about civil-rights movements.”

The more significant shift than the year-to-year single-digit tallies
may be in what we define as an “Oscar movie.” Alongside period behemoths
like “Darkest Hour” and “The Post,” this year’s nine Best Picture
nominations include a sensuous love story between two men, in which
neither meets a tragic end; a teen coming-of-age story that prioritizes
female friendship over boyfriend trouble; and a comedy-horror parable
about racism. That those movies got made is cause for celebration. That
the Academy foregrounded them means that we’re likely to get more where
those came from. Onward!


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