When Get Out director Jordan Peele and Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig each scored nominations for the Best Director award in the upcoming 90th annual Academy Awards, they became only the fifth black and fifth female directors respectively ever to do so.
This was surprising, especially given that the Golden Globes picks for Best Director this year were far from diverse, leading presenter Natalie Portman to announce: “And here are the all-male nominees.” The Academy’s comparably egalitarian display makes clear that we’ve come a long way from the 2015-2016 #OscarsSoWhite campaign, which called out two years of all-white nominees in the acting categories.
Some progress was seen in the success of Moonlight at last year’s Oscars. The coming-of-age story of a young, gay African-American won Best Picture, with Best Supporting Actor going to one of its stars, Mahershala Ali. The ceremony also saw Viola Davis win Best Supporting Actress for her role in Fences. Now, many are asking: could this be the dawn of a new age of diversity for the Oscars?
From the looks of this year’s nominees, this could well be the case. Alongside their Best Director nominations, Gerwig and Peele were also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, as well as the night’s highest honour, Best Picture. Gerwig’s indie love letter to mother-daughter relationships and Peele’s social commentary horror film make for unique additions to the usual Oscar-bait.
Following on from the success of Moonlight last year, gay romance drama Call Me By Your Name is also in the running for Best Picture, with Best Actor hopeful Timothée Chalamet the youngest nominee in his category in almost 80 years. Sometimes, nominations appear to be given based on the name of the actor rather than the power of their performance, but both Chalamet and Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya are being recognised for their breakthrough performances, portending good things for young talent across the board.
Despite this fresh change in the Best Actor category, at 22 years old, Chalamet’s age matches the average age of a Best Actress nominee. It seems that, more often than not, Oscar-worthy roles are given to women with a youthful glow over women of a “certain age,” regardless of talent and experience. This year, however, the sexist pattern has been disrupted, and many of the actresses nominated, including Frances McDormand and Allison Janney, are over 40.
At 88 years old, Christopher Plummer is the oldest person in Oscars history to be nominated for an acting category, entering into contention for his supporting role in All the Money in the World. This nomination is particularly striking given that Plummer was a last-minute addition to the cast, replacing Kevin Spacey following a wave of sexual assault allegations against the actor.
The Academy seems to be making a statement to counteract the surge of sexual harassment scandals that started with Harvey Weinstein and have plagued Hollywood ever since. It sends a clear message that the secret reign of abusers in the film industry will no longer be tolerated, and those who stand up and enforce change will be rewarded.
It is possible that this cultural progress, also seen with movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo, could have been a contributing factor to James Franco’s Best Actor snub for The Disaster Artist, an award many believed he was a shoe-in for. Following his win in the same category at the Golden Globes, several women tweeted allegations of sexual misconduct, unearthing yet more hidden secrets in the industry. Whether coincidence or not, the omission of Franco from this year’s Oscars will save both parties the awkwardness of reminding the public just how many predators still lurk in the underbelly of Hollywood.
While many were pleased by the Franco snub, there were still a few films which the Academy failed to acknowledge, causing controversy among fans and activists. The Florida Project, a female-centered story of poverty in America, and inter-racial romance film The Big Sick were left out of key categories in deference to films like The Darkest Hour, which falls within the predictable war genre.
While this could be attributed to the Oscars’ traditional oversight of diverse films, the fact is that not all great films can be nominated, and each individual’s taste is subjective. Every year there will be snubs, and unfortunately many of those snubbed are diverse films with subject matter not seen in a typical Oscar darling. However, with the range of nominees broadening, we will have to hope that future slights are doled out based on the relative merit of other films, rather than a desire to exclude diversity.
The change in nominations this year might, in part, be credited to the more diverse makeup of the Academy itself: 39% of this year’s invitees are women, and 30% are people of colour. As a general rule, these members would be more open to new voices, such as those of Gerwig and Peele, telling stories from distinctive points of view, thereby helping them to secure exceptional nominations. But the Oscars still have some way to go. The Academy still predominantly consists of white, male members, a fact that needs to change before diversity can be fully realised in the industry.
Although the Oscars can seem pompous and conceited at the surface level, it is still the most prestigious awards show in the industry and sets the stage to lead by example in celebrating new and diverse talent. It inspires up-and-coming actors, directors, and anyone with a passion for film to keep chasing their dream.
Such recognition plays an important role in proving that all voices are valued and deserve to be heard. Accordingly, better representation of minorities in the film industry is needed to better reflect the diversity that is apparent in our everyday lives. The gleaming white of the big screen needs to be reworked as a place for everybody.
The deeper root in this problem could lie in the way we make movies, not just in how we reward them. Hollywood must expand its horizons to give women and people of colour more chances to flourish, while continuing to crack down on abusers. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign is by no means dead and continues to call for representation, joining forces with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements to reshape how Hollywood makes movies, slowly but surely. Hopefully, this means that in the future, there will be many more reaching the glittering heights of Gerwig and Peele.