Why This Year’s Snubs Actually Matter
I didn’t think I’d write this post. I’d mentioned before that I wasn’t as into this year’s awards season as I usually am, so I assumed I would only have a mere passing interest in yesterday’s Academy Award nominations. But the Academy dropped the ball so spectacularly this year that, oh boy, I had to say something. While yes, a lot of deserving films were nominated, it’s the omissions that not only stand out, but reveal a serious problem in the mentality of the Academy and, by extension, the film industry in general.
The Lego Movie
Before we get into the more serious issues, let’s take a minute to remember that, as proven by The Hollywood Reporter last year, the Academy doesn’t really care about animated movies. Some don’t even watch animated films, and many abstain from voting in that category. So it’s no surprise that The Lego Movie, a heartfelt, hilarious, and visually spectacular film, was left out. Perhaps the fact that it’s based on licensed toys had something to do with that? At least Phil Lord and Chris Miller were great sports about it.
The Curious Case of the Crowded Best Actor Race
When I saw Nightcrawler, I felt that it might be a bit too sombre for the Academy’s tastes, but there was no doubt in my mind that Jake Gyllenhaal, at least, would get an acting nomination. So imagine my surprise when he didn’t. This is, of course, a symptom of a year with so many great male performances (David Oyelowo and Ralph Fiennes also come to mind) that no list of five nominees could include them all.
But if we’re to imagine a dozen actors playing the Academy’s equivalent of musical chairs (only five seats, with a clear advantage for the white males in period pieces about science, love, and/or fighting Nazis), with Jake Gyllenhaal, David Oyelowo, and Bradley Cooper fighting over that last seat, the least likely person I’d imagine to emerge victorious is Bradley Cooper. And yet here we are: Bradley Cooper got a Best Actor nomination over Jake Gyllenhaal and David Oyelowo—his third Academy Award nomination in a row!
It’s easy to say that it’s just happenstance—there’s no conspiracy here, the members of the Academy just have different opinions, and American Sniper campaigned really hard. But it can’t be ignored that a movie about a white American solider shooting people (an oversimplification, I know) was viewed more favourably than a Martin Luther King drama that highlights how far we still have to go in race relations and a movie about the dark nature of news media consumption. And if we’re going to talk about pure merit, I will note that I haven’t seen a fraction of the praise Gyllenhaal and Oyelowo have received directed at Bradley Cooper.
The crowded Best Actor race is also notable for being in stark contrast with a Best Actress (and Supporting Actress) category that is anything but crowded. There are four things to note here. First, a good chunk of the nominees (Julianne Moore, Marion Cotillard, Reese Witherspoon, and of course, Meryl Streep, among others) are Oscar “regulars”. Second, of all the Best Actress nominees, only one of them (Felicity Jones) was in a Best Picture nominated film—and she didn’t even play the central character, just his wife. Third, while three of the Best Supporting Actress nominees are in Best Picture nominated films, all of those films are also about men. Finally, in contrast to all of the above, four of the Best Actor nominees are in Best Picture nominated films as the central characters, and indeed, all eight Best Picture nominees are about men. All of this demonstrates just how few roles women can get, and how unrewarded those films that feature women are in the industry.
Which brings us to…
White Men. White Men Everywhere.
Let’s take a look at some numbers. Of the fifteen nominees for writing and directing, none of them are women. Of the twenty nominees in the acting categories, none of them are people of colour.
“Ah, but Louis,” some might say, “numbers without context don’t necessarily mean much.” OK, here’s some context: Selma, easily one of the best-reviewed films of the year, with a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic, stars a black man in a lauded performance and is directed and co-written by an equally praised black woman. Neither of them were nominated. Oh, the movie was nominated for Best Picture, sure, but it received no other nods—not for directing, writing, or acting—except Best Original Song. Literally all of the other Best Picture nominees had at least five nods. One thing of note here is that the lack of a nomination for Selma‘s director, Ava DuVernay, marks yet another instance of the Academy nominating a film for Best Picture but snubbing its female director—the ninth instance, as a matter of fact.
Speaking of women, let’s look at Gone Girl. Granted, it’s not the Academy’s cup of tea—I was not expecting a Best Picture nod—but there is no doubt in most people’s minds that Gillian Flynn deserved a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. She wrote an incredibly successful novel, and adapted it into an excellent, intelligent film herself. Her screenplay was nominated for a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a Writers Guild of America Award—but no Oscars.
The biggest problem here is in missed opportunities and implied messages. In nominating Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, and Gillian Flynn at the very least, the Academy had a chance to avoid those aforementioned appalling numbers, but they didn’t take it. In a year when gender and race issues were so prevalent in our culture, from Gamergate to Ferguson and everything in between, for the Academy to have their least diversified list of nominees in years not only is culturally deaf but feels politically charged.
Note that last year, 12 Years a Slave did win Best Picture—in fact, it performed rather well at the Oscars, giving us some hope that things were getting better. Which makes this year’s list even more troublesome. It’s like the Academy collectively thought, “We awarded a ‘black movie’ last year, what more do you want from us?!”, dusted off their hands, and went into full backlash mode.
And let’s be clear here, I’m not asking that any random movie be nominated just for the sake of diversity. Ava DuVernay, Gillian Flynn, and David Oyelowo genuinely deserve to be there, especially over a lot of the other nominees. It wasn’t a lack of inclusion—it was explicit omission. Race and gender diversity is an issue within the film industry, and we need the Academy to play their part in improving the situation by rewarding the films that deserve it, instead of acting as a roadblock. I mean, no offence to Morten Tyldum, but come on now.
In fact, when it comes to improving the situation, blockbuster movies, usually scoffed at by film enthusiasts, are in fact faring better than the well-regarded award season movies in terms of diversity. Frozen, Maleficent, Lucy, Gone Girl, and Mockingjay Part 1 were all among the top 25 grossing films of 2014. DC is finally working on a Wonder Woman movie and a Cyborg movie. Marvel is making Captain Marvel and Black Panther. Star Wars: The Force Awakens alone is more diverse than the entire list of Oscar nominees. Blockbusters are—admittedly slowly—listening to audience demands. But the “prestigious” awards films still hardly tell stories that are not by and about white males, and the ones that do are overlooked and unrewarded. It’s easy to say let it go, that the Oscars don’t matter, and that it’s not a big deal, but this is a representation of a problem within the film industry and culture in general, and it should be addressed.