#OscarsSoWhite was a trending topic for the past two winters, related to the pasty white, prestige film that has so often dominated the awards cycle. In the last two years, there have been far too few (often zero) people of color featured in the major award categories (Picture, Director, both screenplay, four acting). Where the voting population of the Academy takes a fair bit of the blame, I find limited diverse films because audiences have not flocked to them quite like Suicide Squad or the rest of these lovelies:
With individuals like Tessa Thompson and Michael B Jordan dominating the influx of actors joining the voting ranks, it is time for the movie viewer to take more responsibility in the theaters they attend too. Let’s take a look at the past few years to determine the direction we see the film industry leaning.
In 2010, I was still in college. The six years of this decade have seen a massive tonal shift in how race, gender, sexual orientation, and social change have impacted the lives of millions of Americans. This was the time that Glee was in its first season, and it suddenly was a lot more acceptable to be a gay kid. With one of the pastiest awards years in memory, we had South Korean thriller Mother, which was ignored, and AGI’s pre-Oscar Biuitiful landed a nomination for Bardem. There were no opportunities found in that year, but Wikipedia does note Hailee Steinfeld as one-eight Filipino, which is an interesting fact and the same fraction I am Native American.
2011’s offerings were notably better, boasting The Help’s Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as nominees. Spencer won for Supporting Actress, and Davis assuredly was second place; her loss seems more along the lines of a love for Meryl Streep than a racist gesture. Bérénice Bejo was another Supporting Actress nominee, a French-Argentinian actress in her silent role in The Artist. Demian Bichir landed a surprise Best Actor nomination for his role as Mexican immigrant father in A Better Life. The screenplay for Iran’s A Separation squeezed into the Best Original Screenplay category, showcasing Asghar Farhadi’s stellar script. Notably absent were directors Steve McQueen for Shame and Dee Rees for Pariah, along with actress Adepero Oduye in the latter. Harmony Santana (Gun Hill Road) was a strong contender, as a trans actress transitioning upon her recently imprisoned father’s return.
2012, the year of Argo, featured Beast of the Southern Wild with major awards considering (no wins), including actress Quvenzhané Wallis as the youngest lead actress on record. Denzel Washington received another nomination for Flight, and Ang Lee received his second Best Director Oscar, the only Asian director to take home the award. Quentin Tarantino’s arguably exploitative Django Unchained starred Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, and a superb turn from Samuel L Jackson, but it’s two wins were for Christoph Waltz (fun to unbearable oddly fast) and Tarantino’s writing, both of which are widely considered overrated. I still contend Jones should have won for Lincoln from those nominated. The slights were ample here too. Omar Sy in The Intouchables was considered a light but possible lead actor nominee, and Supporting Actor was sorely missing Beast’s Dwight Henry and End of Watch’s Michael Pena. Pre-Selma Ava DuVernay’s project Middle of Nowhere was nowhere to be found. Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Lorraine Toussaint, and DuVernay’s script or direction would not have been out of place, but the project barely saw release until Netflix picked it up far too late. The Raid: Redemption and Chile’s No with ever ignored Gael Garcia Bernal were heavily overlooked, but it’s often difficult to pen down the year for foreign films. The submission of Foreign Language contenders is based on country submissions, but any film meeting criteria for consideration would have to play in the US to receive a Big 8 award. I actually think No wound up in 2013 consideration, but the three Pablo Larrain films in release this year could prove beneficial to his inclusion in the big leagues. Even Oscar winner Javier Bardem was overlooked for his popular Skyfall turn as the grotesque villain.
2013 is where it starts to get interesting, and we see tides turning (Spoiler alert: it was a brief detour, maybe an El Nino year for cinemas). Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, as did the screenplay and Lupita Nyong’o, and McQueen’s direction and lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor were nominated. McQueen was bested by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. Barkhad Abdi was nominated for “breakout villain” (recurring theme) in Supporting Actor. A wealth of nominees found their placement as Somali pirates and slaves, but missing were interpretations of modern America. Keith Stanfield (Atlanta) was shockingly good in Short Term 12. Michael B Jordan, Octavia Spencer, and Melonie Diaz were overlooked in the acting categories, as was writer-director Ryan Coogler for his exploration of Oscar Grant, who was shot by the police on New Year’s Eve for suspected gate jumping. Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey were also heavily favored for their turn in Lee Daniel’s The Butler, a prestige pic which spanned numerous decades and was much better than expected. Chadwick Boseman in the role-better-than-the-movie placement as Jackie Robinson in 42 could have spiced up the pasty nominees.
Now we find ourselves in the first year of #OscarsSoWhite for 2014. Alejandro G. Iñárritu claimed his first of two consecutive best director wins, and Selma snagged a Best Picture nomination. Otherwise, we had a marshmallow heavy year. David Oyelowo was robbed for his portrayal as Martin Luther King, Jr in Selma, as was the direction from Ava DuVernay. This is the first year where I began writing, so I remember it quite vividly from here on out. Aside from the Selma debacle, Justin Simien’s screenplay for Dear White People would have made an excellent replacement for Foxcatcher, and Tessa Thompson’s lead portrayal was an impressive breakout. Gugu Mbatha-Raw had a double-whammy with Belle and Beyond the Lights, but outside of those few films, the awards portfolio was rather lacking.
Now to 2015, the year when a sequel was not at all welcome for the all-white accolades. The biggest issue related to this year was the utter lack of roles from which to choose, or so the Academy thought. Straight Outta Compton landed a screenplay nomination, but I believe only one or two of the four nominees were black; and the superb acting, particularly from Jason Mitchell, was overlooked. There was one Filipino screenwriter on Inside Out, but that was never found in the discussion. The Academy ignored plenty of worthy roles. Beasts of No Nation sported a terrifying Idris Elba, who some were glad to not see nominated to avoid perpetuating the black villain, and Abraham Attah, who was shockingly affecting as a child soldier; both won at the Independent Spirit Awards, but were absent at the Oscars. Michael B Jordan killed it as Apollo Creed’s son in Creed, providing the best boxing performance since Denzel in The Hurricane; Phylicia Rashad, as Creed’s mother, was also a personal joy to behold. Tangerine introduced black trans actress Mya Taylor to the world, a much applauded debut, and youthful performances from RJ Cyler, Tony Revolori, and Shameik Moore drew attention with few accolades. Even former winner Benecio del Toro couldn’t get nominated for Sicario.
So what does all my rambling about a single, annually trending hashtag have to do with you? Well, nothing, unless you’ve ever used it while accidentally contributing to its proliferation. Before anyone gets defensive though, please know I am not trying to chastise; I’m simply trying to reinforce better behavior that can actually help alleviate this imbalance. There’s a wealth of cinema this year that can be recognized as award worthy, and even watching it in home release can aid in the spread diverse cinema options.
Let’s get out and sit in the big screen to show we’re intrigued by the expressed drama of human experience. See Moonlight, Loving, Hidden Figures, Morris from America, Fences, Lion, The Handmaiden, Julieta, Certain Women, Queen of Katwe, Silence, and The Fits. Chat them up. Make the world know Royalty Hightower like they (kinda) know Quvenzhané Wallis (though I’ve never been able to spell her name). Help Moonlight make enough money to encourage the next LGBT POC film to get their opportunity.
Let the subtlety of Lily Gladstone’s performance in Certain Women be the first Native American actor to be nominated since Dances with Wolves (Graham Greene, 1990; only other one is Dan George, Little Big Man, 1970). Dev Patel could become the first Asian actor nominated since Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) in 2006. Make sure that Alicia Vikander gets to say “Mahershala Ali” at the ceremony, because we know she will prepare for that name and deliver beautifully. The movies we get out to see reflect the movies we want available, and where I imagine The Handmaiden might be a little too much mannequin mounting for some of people, checking out Hidden Figures or Fences might lead to Viola Davis’s Oscar win or Janelle Monae or Octavia Spencer sliding in with an acting nomination. Elections can be changed up until the ballots are due. We’ve already lost control of one election this season; let’s hope we can have a less dull ceremony, so I can get super gay and enjoy my version of the Super Bowl.
As a final note, we’ve already seen Critics Choice and The National Board of Review nominate Mel Gibson & Hacksaw Ridge and endlessly crotchety Clint Eastwood’s Sully. Not everyone will be as diverse as the LAFCA (Los Angeles Film Critics Association) and find room for non-normative prize winners. Encourage the newly diversified Academy to see some less cringe worthy individuals have their names called on Sunday, February 26, 2017. We’ve already had enough of unpleasant names winning things this year.