I love the Oscars.
Every year, I eagerly await the announcement of nominees and try to watch as many of these films as possible. I make my predictions and watch the ceremony, beginning to end.
However, Ive recently become disillusioned with the event, particularly this year.
Despite gains for female directors in 2019 blockbusters like Captain Marvel, Frozen 2 and Hustlers; and critically acclaimed films like Little Women, The Farewell and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, no women were nominated for best director.
In the 92 years of the Academy Awards only five women have been nominated for best director. Of those five, only one has won the award: Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.
Thats just the nominees for women in the best director category. With the exception of Bong Joon Ho for The Parasite, a South Korean film (nominated for six Oscars including best picture and best director), and Cynthia Erivo (best actress) for Harriet, people of color largely were shut out as well.
While this isnt a new trend, somehow it hit harder this year. Previous years featured excuses like: There werent any good candidates. That reasoning falls flat when films like The Farewell, Little Women and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood performed well in other award circuits.
At least last years Oscars showed range in films nominated for best picture. Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman featured black actors and black stories, and winner Green Book told the story of a black man in the segregated South. Bohemian Rhapsody, was a biopic about rock band Queen. Rami Malek, who is of Eygptian descent, won the Best Actor category for his portrayol of Freddie Mercury, who was of Indian-Parsi descent and a bisexual rockstar. Roma, was a Spanish-language film set in Mexico. It starred Yalitza Aparicio, who became the first Indigenous American women to be nominated for best actress. The Favourite featured a female-led cast and lesbian relationships. The other two films nominated were Vice, centered on white men in politics and A Star is Born which focused on two white characters, a man and a woman.
Comparing that list to this years Best Picture nominees is quite a different story. Little Women, is the only female-led film nominated. Marriage Story depicts the failing marriage of a white heterosexual couple. The Parasite is the only non-white and non-English film nominated for best picture. Nominee Jojo Rabbit is a bit complicated; it tells the story of a young German boy (white), and the films director and writer Taika Waititi, who is a Polynesian Jew, plays a supporting role, so Ill let you categorize that one. The rest of the nominees: Ford v. Ferrari, The Irishman, Joker, 1917 and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, are all about white men.
The only thing new about this years lack of diversity was the backlash when the Oscar nominees were announced.
In 2015, #Oscarssowhite became a trending hashtag after the all-white nominees for acting categories were announced. In the years since, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the voting body of the Oscars, has worked to increase its diversity in an effort to increase nonmale and nonwhite nominees. This years nominations show there is much work to be done. As of 2019, 32 percent of the academy is female and 16 percent are minorities.
I dont believe the lack of women and minorities among the nominations is intentional. I dont think the majority of white men who make up the academy are voting the way they are because they are sexist or racist. What I do think is that films representing nonwhite male narratives arent being fully appreciated by the white male academy voters.
Take Little Women for example. Its a film that a man could watch and appreciate for its script (which was nominated), its acting (nominated) and recognize as a solid overall film (a best picture nomination).
For a woman watching Little Women, certain moments of the film resonate more strongly. Scenes in which characters talk about the struggles of being a woman with no way to make money, of feeling like objects not people, or that their dreams are viewed as less important, will mean more to a female viewer. A male academy voter wont relate to a film like Little Women in the same way and therefore wont pick up on these nuances. When it comes time to vote, he may see it as an OK film worthy of a few nods and not recognize the importance of the subtext. Its not intentional, its the way films relate and speak to different people. Because of this, films that speak more to a white male audience, get the votes.
Fortunately, theres an easy way to fix this: Invite more women and minorities into the academy. The more diversity in the academy, the more the films showing diversity will be included amongst the nominees. Not to mention that excluding these stories and talents make women, like me, feel like our stories arent worth telling.
The lack of diversity isnt only an issue affecting the academy, its a reflection of the industry as a whole. While minorities account for 40 percent of the U.S. population, they make up only 19.8 percent of leads in film, 12.6 percent of directors and 7.8 percent of writers, according to UCLAs 2019 diversity report. The report also shows that women make up 32.9 percent of film leads and 12.6 percent of directors and writers in film.
Having diversity in film and at awards season isnt about taking anything away from people (like white men) who are already accomplished, its about helping those who havent yet made it.
Think about it like the recent snowfall that hit the Quad Cities area.
Many people need to drive to get to where they need to go for the day. However, the snow plows focuses on the main roads first. The main streets are cleared, and people can easily make their way through. If you live on a side road, it might be a different story. Your little side road might be slick with ice and snow and so its difficult for you get out of your driveway, down the street and on the main road. Once you get on the main road, its pretty easy to make your way.
Thats what diversity in film is. Its about plowing the road to make it easy for everyone to make their way through the industry, not just the white men who live along the main roads. Its about saying, OK, we have cleared these streets, now lets hit the side roads so everyone can have equal access.
When that does happen, Ill be able to look forward to the Oscars again, without worrying about what films they left off the list.