DISCLAIMER: There was an incomplete post like this yesterday. The reason was I was editing from my smartphone and intended to update the draft, not publish the blog. It published anyways. This blog here is my complete blog for Oscar predictions.
The Academy Awards are here. I’ve seen enough movies to make up 82 of the nominations this year. It was quite the year with lots to offer and a lot of things that appeared guaranteed weren’t. So without further ado, let’s get on with the predictions:
BEST PICTURE WRAP-UP
You all saw my three summaries of all nine nominees. Doing shorter summaries were better for me this year. Maybe next year I won’t be so busy or have as many ailments. So here goes for predicting the winner:
-Arrival- This is the first movie about aliens to be nominated for an Oscar. A very smart film that was loaded with buzz when it first came out. However its awards excitement faded over time as did its Best Picture chances.
-Fences- I like it when I see a celebrated play brought to the big screen. Especially around Oscar time. I felt it was done excellently. However it is up in this category against meatier competition. This is one category I think Fences won’t win.
-Hacksaw Ridge- Very rarely does a pro-religion movie have a chance for Best Picture. Hacksaw Ridge is the pro-religion film in the past 15 years most deserving of a nomination. However it does have some formulaic elements that come up every now and then and it has better chances in the technical categories instead of Best Picture.
-Hell Or High Water- This year’s ‘summer survivor.’ Those like me who missed out on it during the summer missed out on a gem. A crime story that’s funny and entertaining, but smart too. However I’m not too optimistic in its Oscar chances here.
-Hidden Figures- This movie started with very little Oscar buzz at first but it increased as rapport from the film–from both critics and audience alike– grew. It seems like it doesn’t have good chances to win Best Picture but it could pull a surprise. A very slim chance of that but it is likely.
-La La Land- What can I say? People have been embracing it in droves. Why? Because people just really like a good musical? Because of its feel? Because it reminds one of the charm of old Hollywood? Whatever it is, it’s made it the frontrunner that looks hard to beat. That’s why it’s my Will Win pick. the biggest reason why I hope it win is because last year I said: “One more Best Picture winner that fails to gross $100 million and I’m done Oscarwatching.” I don’t know what made me carry on even after Spotlight won– and it didn’t even make $50 million— but La La Land makes me glad I did.
-Lion- I’m no expert in Oscar trivia but I think this is the first Australian film to be nominated for Best Picture, and a deserving nominee. It’s won over everyone I know who has seen it. It may have had better Best Picture chances in another year.
-Manchester By The Sea- This is a film that was loaded with buzz at the beginning of the Oscar race and looked to be the one film that could beat out La La Land. The buzz faded over time, despite how great the film was. May have an outside chance but not too likely.
-Moonlight- This is one film that proves that less is more. Less dialogue, more of a feel of what’s happening. Less showy characters, more knowing who the characters are. Less singing and dancing, more feel for the music in the film. This is the surprise of the Oscar race that was able to let it speak for itself. I know it faces a hell of a fight against La La Land to win Best Picture but I give this my Should Win pick.
Should Win – Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Will Win – Damien Chazelle, La La Land
I felt that Moonlight is the better picture and Jenkins did an excellent job of directing but I know this is the year of La La Land and it’s Damien Chazelle’s to take.
Should Win and Will Win – Denzel Washington, Fences
These past two years saw the rise of the #OscarsSoWhite outcry. This year there are seven non-white acting nominees. Denzel may have won twice before but his performance as Troy Maxson has been getting loads of buzz and even surprised favorite Casey Affleck at the SAG Awards. The only way I can see Casey winning instead of Denzel is if the Academy doesn’t want to make this his third Oscar, and it is a possibility.
Should Win – Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Will Win – Emma Stone, La La Land
Some are saying that Isabelle Huppert looks to be the biggest threat to Emma Stone’s win. It is a possibility but I think Casey Affleck beating out Denzel appears more likely. It’s Emma’s to lose.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Should Win and Will Win – Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Mahershala Ali may have only been seen in the first part of Moonlight but there was something about his performance of Juan that stood out like no other supporting performance this year. Was it Juan’s charisma? Was it his silent coolness? Whatever it is, it’s what made Mahershala stand out this year among all the supporting actor performances.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Should Win and Will Win – Viola Davis, Fences
What can I say? If there’s anyone who can steal the show from Denzel, it’s Viola Davis. She reminded us very well that Fences wasn’t just about Troy Maxson. It was about Rose too.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Should Win – Taylor Sheridan, Hell Or High Water
Will Win – Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea
A lot of people are expecting Damien Chazelle to do it again here but I feel that Kenneth Lonergan will take it for one of the best scripts of the year. It was a film that cuts deep and doesn’t water down.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Should Win and Will Win – Barry Jenkins and Terell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight
It all started with a short story by McCraney, then Jenkins developed a screenplay, and now it’s one of the best of the year. No stopping it.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
Should Win: Kubo And The Two Strings
Will Win: Zootopia
Kubo was the best at taking your imagination away this year. However in comparison to frontrunner Zootopia, it isn’t really all that family friendly and that I believe is where it will hurt it. Zootopia was without a doubt this year’s crowd charmer. Besides this is the one category Disney wants to take year after year.
BEST ART DIRECTION:
Will Win: La La Land
Let’s face it. Any movie that shows off the classic areas in Los Angeles and even meshes it into the present will win this category.
Will Win: Linus Sandgren, La La Land
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Will Win: Madeline Fontaine, Jackie
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
Will Win: O. J. Simpson: Made In America
BEST FILM EDITING:
Will Win: Tom Cross, La La Land
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
Will Win: The Salesman (Iran)
Salesman director Asghar Farhadi has been the subject of news as it was believed Donald Trump’s travel ban could prevent him from attending the Oscars. Whatever the situation, he boycotted the Oscars in protest of Trump’s policies.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:
Will Win: A Man Called Ove
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Will Win: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
I’m sure we’ve all been waiting for the longest time for a musical of original composition. Especially the Academy.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
Should Win: ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’, La La Land
Will Win: ‘City Of Stars’, La La Land
BEST SOUND MIXING:
Will Win: La La Land
BEST SOUND EDITING:
Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Will Win: The Jungle Book
I think the reason why Star Wars lost this category last year is because having the best digital effects of the year is expected for a Star Wars movie. That’s where The Jungle Book has the edge for this year.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM:
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM:
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT:
Will Win: Joe’s Helmet
JUST ONE MORE – TOP OSCAR UPSETS
I did this for the first time last year. I want to do it again this year.:
- Moonlight wins Best Picture
- Casey Affleck wins Best Actor for Manchester By The Sea
- Kubo And The Two Strings wins Best Animated Feature
- Arrival wins Best Adapted Screenplay
- Greig Fraser wins Best Cinematography for Lion.
And there you have it. My predictions for Hollywood’s night of nights. Let’s see how Jimmy Kimmel does as host this time.
Remember last year I talked about the issue of Oscars and race that took over headlines? Yes, it’s nice to see people pay attention to something about the Oscars besides who wears what? However it did focus on a problem in which many people including myself hoped would only exist last year. Unfortunately it was not the case.
THIS YEAR’S HOPE
Last year was a big focus of the lack of diversity. I even did a focus on it myself and even explained how things worked in all my 15 years of ‘OscarWatching.’ Many including myself were hoping that this year would not have the same mistake this year. And this year had a performance by a black actor eligible for a nomination: Idris Elba in the Supporting Actor category for Beasts Of No Nation. It had all the eligible clout: a Golden Globe nomination, a Screen Actors Guild nomination and a BAFTA nomination. Although nothing is guaranteed or earned in showbiz, it had the right amount of juice to clinch the nomination in that category. Many wanted to see the nomination happen. I also wanted to see it happen. I know that if it didn’t happen, there would be a whole whack of controversy and outrage. I even thought the Academy wouldn’t deny him the nomination, not after the #OscarsSoWhite embarrassment from last year.
The nominations were announced on January 14th. Elba was not among the nominees in that category. There were the nominations of Christian Bale and Mark Rylance which were also nominated for the same awards previously mentioned, the was Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone. However there was Mark Ruffalo who had earned a SAG nomination and Critics Choice nomination and Tom Hardy who had amassed only a Critics Choice nomination. All the acting nominees were white. All eight Best Picture nominees consisted of a predominantly white cast and predominantly white crew. As for directing and writing, the only non-white nominee was Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
The lack of diversity wasn’t just the black-and-white issue. Gay director Todd Haynes was heavily favored to be nominated for Best Director for Carol and even for Carol itself to be nominated for Best Picture but those didn’t happen either. If there’s one positive thing, there were four women who receive scriptwriting nominations: up from zero from last year.
People were already speaking their outrage. A new Twitter hashtag– #OscarsStillSoWhite– came about. Civil Rights leader Al Sharpton, whom last year said he would set up a ‘diversity task force,’ was outspoken in his outrage and urged boycotts. Boycotts did happen from Spike Lee, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Some actors who did not intend to boycott like George Clooney, Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o spoke their criticism. Host Chris Rock was under pressure to boycott the Oscars. He declined but he will be focusing on it during his opening routine at this year’s ceremony. Even Barack Obama spoke out about the controversy: “I think that when everyone’s story is told then that makes for better art, it makes for better entertainment it makes everybody feel part of one American family, so I think as a whole the industry should do what every other industry should do which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody. And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”
The Academy especially came under fire as they were scrutinized and analyzed and it was revealed that over 90% of the Academy were white in comparison to 65% of the population of the United States being white. In addition three out of every four Academy members were male. Despite the criticism and outrage, there were defenders coming from the likes of actress Penelope Ann Miller: “I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren’t nominated. To imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don’t want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I’m certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business. It was just an incredibly competitive year.” Even black actors like Ice Cube and Whoopi Goldberg dismissed the labeling of the Academy as racist. Ice Cube described the labeling of racism as “crying about not having enough icing on your cake.” Whoopi whom herself has won an Oscar and even host the Oscar ceremonies for many years stated: “Even if you fill the Academy with black and Latino and Asian members, if there’s no one on the screen to vote for, you’re not going to get the outcome that you want. I won once, so it can’t be that racist. I’ve been black the whole time.”
THE AMPAS PRESIDENT
With all the criticism the Academy faced this year, the one person who had to do the responding was AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1949, Boone Isaacs grew up in a middle-class African-American family. She graduated from Springfield Central High School in 1967 and from Whittier College in 1971 with a degree in political science. Her studies in college included a program studying abroad in Denmark.
Her introduction to showbiz came at the age of 25 through her older brother Ashley Boone Jr. who worked as an executive in Hollywood. She started work in Hollywood as a publicist for Columbia Pictures. Her first job was being a publicist for Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. She would work for various film companies as a publicist. Her publicity work on films would eventually lead to higher stature such as Vice President, Worldwide Advertising and Publicity of Melvin Simon Productions and Director of Advertising and Publicity for The Ladd Company. Under Paramount Pictures starting in 1984, she would start as Director, Publicity and Promotion, West Coast and then eventually become the Worldwide Publicity Director. Some of her marketing campaigns included successful Oscar campaigns for Best Picture winners Forrest Gump and Braveheart.
Success continued for Boone Isaacs as she would become President of Theatrical Marketing for New Line Cinema, the first black woman to hold such a position. She even has her own promotion company, CBI Enterprises, Inc., where she has worked on successful promotion of Best Picture winners: The King’s Speech and The Artist.
Boone Isaacs has been a member of the Academy since 1988. In 2013, she was promoted to the position of AMPAS president in 2013and became the first African-American president of the Academy as well as only the third woman, after only Bette Davis and Fay Kanin. Since her inception as president, he achievements have included lifting the cap or restriction on the number of Academy members. she also initiated a drive to invite over 400 new members coming from many ages and backgrounds.
THE PRESIDENT AND THE ISSUE OF DIVERSITY
“It’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be the head of a studio.”
The issue of the Academy and diversity appeared to be making progress since the start of the new millennium. Actors of various races were earning nominations more than ever before as well as non-white directors. Even in the minor categories, minorities were getting an increasing number of nominations. However it’s almost always in the acting categories where the issue of the Academy and racial diversity gets the heaviest scrutiny. That was the case last year when the first hashtag #OscarsSoWhite came out.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African-American woman herself, knew this was an issue that needed looking into and she made her efforts. This was especially noteworthy at the AMPAS’s annual Governor Awards on Saturday November 14th. One of those awarded was Spike Lee where he was given an honorary Oscar. Before Boone Isaacs announced her plans, Lee talked about the lack of diversity even commenting that when he goes through Hollywood offices, he only sees white faces and the only non-white is the person checking his name at the door.
At those Awards, Boone Isaacs announced her plan which she called A2020: an initiative to age, gender, race, national origin and point-of-view, in Hollywood over the next five years. Her A2020 initiative is a five-year plan to study practices at the Academy with the aim of improving the diversity of its own staff and governance while also bringing new voices into the organization. Outside of the Academy, the plan is also intended to encourage and to push the industry to examine its hiring practices and to begin to make changes. Boone Isaacs stated: “When it comes to fair and equal representation in our industry, words are not enough. We also have a responsibility to take action and we have an unique opportunity to do so now.” At those ceremonies, Lee thanked her and said: “she’s trying to do something that needs to be done.”
THE PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO THE CONTROVERSY
“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.”
-Cheryl Boone Isaacs
If there’s one thing most people would feel upon learning of this year’s nominees, it’s that Cheryl’s A2020 plan isn’t happening fast enough. Even though the set of 51 new members of the Academy was more diverse especially with 17 of them being women, the end result on nomination day was one of disappointment. Boone Isaacs herself came under fire by some for not doing enough. Even civil rights leader Al Sharpton ridiculed her by referring to her as a pawn in a predominantly white members-only club.
No doubt Boone Isaacs felt the heat. It was only a matter of a mere eight days after the nominations were announced that Boone Isaacs announced the sweeping changes to the membership rules for Academy members. This was published on the AMPAS website under the title ‘Academy Takes Historic Action To Increase Diversity.’ For those interested in the plans, click here to the official document.
The day before, the Board Of Governors approved through a unanimous vote a set of sweeping changes coming to the Academy’s membership. Its intent was to make the Academy members more diverse and open the door to more women and visible minorities. However one of the things they most wanted to get tough on was the membership of their older members. Examples of the proposed changes starting this year are:
- New members lasting 10 years and renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade.
- Lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms or if they’ve won or have been nominated for an Academy Award. Standards also applied retroactively to current members.
- Current members that have not been active for 10 years can still qualify if they meet the other criteria.
- Members not qualifying for active status will be moved to emeritus status and will be denied voting privileges.
- An ambitious global campaign will be launched to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.
- To increase diversity in its Board Of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the president for three year terms and confirmed by the board.
- New members who are not governors will be added to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This allows for new members to become more active in the Academy’s decision-making and help the Academy identify and nurture future leaders.
Most of the response has been good. Some of the biggest came from Selma director Ava DuVernay through Twitter: “One good step in a long, complicated journey for people of color + women artists. Shame is one helluva motivator.” Lee stood by his boycott but applauded Boone Isaacs and the Board of Governers for: “trying to do the right thing. It’s a start.” Steven Spielberg also reminded us: “I do think that what the Academy is doing, in a proactive way, to open up the membership to diversity, I think that’s very, very important. But it’s not just the Academy, and I think we have to stop pointing fingers and blaming the Academy. It’s people that hire, it’s people at the main gate of studios and independents. It’s the stories that are being told. It’s who’s writing diversity — it starts on the page. And we all have to be more proactive in getting out there and just seeking talent.”
I admire Cheryl Boone Isaacs for taking the initiative for making these needed changes. The Academy always was aboard with its own membership rules and needed reform back in the 1960’s because of its own issues then. Issues came again now and reform was needed. The changes proposed look great: less members for life.
However I do believe they are not a 100% guarantee of diversity happening on a consistent basis. No kidding diversity will be increasing at double the rate it’s been happening in past years. However it doesn’t mean that every year from next year onward will feature a diverse array of nominees. I’ve seen the various film seasons over the years and see how certain films excel more than others. I’ve seen years that have been very generous towards minority actor and have given them roles that can contend for glory at various awards shows including the Oscars. However I’ve also seen years which have been lackluster for them and they would lack parts that can propel them among the ‘elite of the year.’ I know it’s a start and there will be more to come but I’m still a bit cynical it’s a solve-all.
Also it also depends on the media too. I’ve seen them label some films long before the Oscars full of ‘Oscar buzz.’ And most of them are predominantly white. The media can’t just simply label a film ‘Oscar bait’ because it has characteristics that are common with what wins the Academy over. They should call it ‘Oscar bait’ because of top notch quality, and skin color should not matter.
Nevertheless next year is the first year when these changes are to come into effect. Hopefully over time we will see a more diverse Academy. And not just more blacks; more women, more Hispanics, more Asians, more of all minorities. As for 2016, potential is already showing as this year’s Sundance showed The Birth Of A Nation: a film with a predominantly African-American cast that had rave reviews and huge buzz. The release date to the box office has not been set but Fox Searchlight has bought the film’s rights at $17.5 million, the most ever for a Sundance film.
The outrage over the lack of diversity at this year’s Academy Award nominees was just the catalyst needed for the necessary changes to happen. The future will tell if these changes pay off or not. However the lack of diversity is still an ugly reminder of what happens when you turn art into a competition.
WIKIPEDIA: 88th Academy Awards. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/88th_Academy_Awards>
WIKIPEDIA: Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheryl_Boone_Isaacs>
Kilday, Gregg. “Spike Lee: Getting a Black President Is Easier Than a Black Studio Head” The Hollywood reporter. 14 November 2015 <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/spike-lee-getting-a-black-840371>
Gray, Tim. “Governors Award Winner Spike Lee to Hollywood: ‘You Better Get Smart’” Variety. 15 November 2015 <http://variety.com/2015/film/news/governors-award-winner-spike-lee-to-hollywood-you-better-get-smart-1201640307/>
“ACADEMY TAKES HISTORIC ACTION TO INCREASE DIVERSITY” Oscars.org 22 January 2016 <http://www.oscars.org/news/academy-takes-historic-action-increase-diversity>
DISCLAIMER: Some of you may wonder about the lateness of this blog. True, I could have posted this around the time of the nominations or around the time the winners were announced. However I was busy enough with watching and reviewing films around Oscar time. Also I was tired of blogging for a long time after the Oscars were awarded. This is something long-time subscribers of mine are familiar with where I take time out from blogging after the Awards. Nevertheless this is a subject that is relevant any time and is worth posting even now.
When the Oscar nominations came out Thursday January 15th, with it came the ranting and complaining from people. The Hollywood Reporter is right that if there’s one thing we love more than watching the Oscars, it’s complaining about them. Every year, there are complaints from people about nominations that deserved to happen but didn’t. The biggest example for this year would be The LEGO Movie snubbed in the Best Animated Feature category. There’s also the possible complaint from people, especially Republicans, that none of the eight Best Picture nominees had grossed even $60 million at that time. One such to raise eyebrows, especially at Box Office Mojo. However the biggest noise came over the lack of racial diversity among the nominees, especially the acting nominees. It was all over social media. It even appeared in a speech by Jessica Chastain at this year’s Critics Choice awards. The question being how legitimate is this claim? And what does this say of the film industry.
How The Oscar Race Works
One thing I’ve been doing in my fifteen years of paying close attention to the Oscar race is learning how nominations are won. One thing I already know that having a phenomenal performance or effort in a critically-renowned film is good to get the buzz started. Then it involves having it taken to all those Critics Circle awards, film body awards, Top 10 films of the year charts from critics, the Hollywood Foreign Press, the respective various guilds and members of the Academy through various DVDs with ‘for your consideration’ stamped all over it and even ‘for your consideration’ posters. Even things of merit like Oscar nominations require marketing to success in this lovely industry called showbiz.
Then it’s up for the Academy members to vote. How does one become a member? The easiest way– or should I say the most guaranteed way as nothing’s easy in showbiz– is be nominated for an Oscar. That’s the sure-fire method. The harder method is to earn consistent acclaim over the years with your efforts and performances. There are a lot of members that were never nominated for an Oscar so there must be some merit system towards achieving Academy membership. Performances and efforts get a lot of Oscar buzz and a load of acclaim from critics, critics’ boards and awards juries. It’s now up for the members of the Academy to vote for the nominees. One thing we need to remember is that nominating operates branch-by-branch. Actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, scriptwriters nominate scripts, documentarians nominate documentaries, and so forth. One thing’s that’s certain is all members vote for Best Picture.
The funny thing is how many performances and efforts each year that are labeled Oscar-worthy. It’s like I always describe the nominations race: “Lots of performances deserving of the win. Only room for five nominees.” You can tell how hard it is to be among what should be called the ‘elite of the year.’ I even describe that by saying “Sometimes even excellent isn’t good enough.” It’s obvious why a lot of actors and other people in film rely on such buzz and advertising to get a nomination because they can’t rely on just their performance as-is. This is showbiz and it’s about that push and about politicking and advertising and cash pumping that lead to all these nominations and nothing is completely guaranteed. Even The LEGO Movie looked like a sure bet for the Best Animated Feature nomination but it didn’t get it. That to me was the biggest snub this year.
Then the nominations came. Selma was among the eight films to earn nominations for Best Picture. However the big shock came in the latter categories. Selma also had its best hopes in earning nominations in the Best Actor category for David Oyelowo and the Best Director category for Ava DuVernay. Both were already Golden Globe nominees and Critics Choice award nominees. However neither of the nominations happened. The only other nomination that Selma received was in the Best Original Song category for ‘Glory’ which had already won the Golden Globe.
The snubs bit. Ava’s bit especially since this would have made her the fourth black director and the fifth female director to clinch a Best Director nomination. Just as irritating is who was nominated in their place. For Best Actor, Redmayne, Keaton, Cumberbatch and Carell had enough buzz to sit pretty. David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhall of Nightcrawler looked like to be the tightest race for the fifth spot. For Best Director, Inarritu, Tyldum, Linklater and Anderson had the biggest buzz while DuVernay appeared to have her biggest competition for the fifth sport from Clint Eastwood for American Sniper. As what should have been expected for Best Actor, it went to a peer: Bradley Cooper for American Sniper. This was the third year in a row he was nominated for an Oscar. Unexpectedly in Best Director, the directors went for a lesser-celebrated peer: Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. This is his second nomination, first being for Capote in 2005.
As much as the snubs bit, it’s not that unusual for more celebrated performances to be snubbed out in favor of lesser-hailed performances and efforts by Academy ‘peers.’ I first learned that in 2000, the very first year I paid serious attention to the Oscar race, when after I saw Billy Elliot, I was rooting for young Jamie Bell to get a Best Actor nomination. I even said: “If Billy Elliot gets a Best Picture nomination, then Jamie better get a Best Actor nomination.” The Academy granted my wish by making neither nomination happen. Favored over Jamie in the Best Actor category was the performance of Ed Harris, who had two previous Oscar nominations, in his self-directed Pollock: a movie and performance whose buzz either slipped under the radar or was kept low key because it wasn’t as heralded by previous awards. I saw it repeated in 2004 in the Best Actor category when Clint Eastwood was nominated for Million Dollar Baby. Sure his directing work was hugely heralded and his Best Director nomination was expected but his Best Actor nomination was completely out of the blue as it neither won nor was nominated for any other awards, major or minor. I continue to see it on a yearly basis in the Best Original Score category. It’s a given that whenever John Williams composes a score for a film, he’s guaranteed to get nominated. Even if it’s mostly unnoticed, it will find itself on the nominees lists even over more lauded scores by lesser known composers. Surprise nominees have happened in other categories over the years too. Rarely but often enough to take notice.
You can bet the outrage would start after the snubbing of Selma. All the acting and directing nominees were white. All the directing and writing nominees were white males. Additional irritation came when the script of Gone Girl was not nominated. This would have made Gillian Flynn the lone female writer among screenplay nominees. The anger came fast. Sasha Stone at the Awards Daily website was fuming. Bill Maher lampooned it. Jessica Chastain talked about the importance of diversity among Oscar nominees in her Critics Choice award acceptance speech. There was even the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The craziest news came from the Rev. Al Sharpton and his plan to start up a diversity task force on the Academy. Actually Al’s remarks were the least of my concern. Al Sharpton is less of a civil rights leader than he is a drama queen.
However it was later exposed in an Entertainment Weekly article where DuVernay herself was personally interviewed by the magazine the real facts. It wasn’t racism as so many want to believe. It wasn’t even the controversy of her portrayal of LBJ. Nor was it even her involvement in raising activism over the not-guilty verdict over the shooting of Michael Brown or her promotion of the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ campaign. It was however marketing. Even though she had a Golden Globe nomination as did Oyelowo, the film was shunned out of the Screen Actors Guild awards, Directors Guild awards and the Producers Guild’s Golden Laurel awards, weakening Selma‘s chances for Oscar nominations. Even her own late distribution of the promotional DVD to Academy members, meaning members wouldn’t get it until later-December with little time to spare for nomination voting, decreased Selma‘s chances even further. Who you know doesn’t just involve getting acting jobs. It can even involve awards nominations too. In the end, Selma was nominated for Best Picture but its only other nomination was for Best Original Song for ‘Glory,’ which would go on to win the Oscar. However Selma became the first Best Picture nominee since 2002’s Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers without additional nominations in acting, directing or scriptwriting.
Whatever happened, it did expose a lot of holes in the Academy. Having a group of peers declaring nominees does leave for a lot of subjectivity in its choices. You can describe a lot of performances as ‘deserving’ of an Oscar win or even a nomination but the reality is this is showbiz. As much as there are a lot of performances and efforts deserving of nominations, I’m also well aware that showbiz is one domain where you won’t get what you deserve no matter how hard you work. Being able to command at least $1,000,000 per film, getting the big break of a lifetime and even getting an Oscar nomination are all as much about luck as even making it as an actor, especially in Hollywood. And it’s not uncommon to see peer favoritism in terms of Oscar nominations and seeing a deserving performance from an up-and-comer snubbed out.
Such snubs especially bite when it happens to a minority. People magazine even did a 1996 cover article entitled ‘Hollywood Black-Out’ about how black actors and other blacks in the film industry are shunned out. It’s not just blacks. Seeing the rare times when an actor/actress of a different race is nominated brings up reminders how their race is also given too little acclaim from the Academy. Having black celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock host the Oscars has done little to quell this controversy. The fact that the AMPAS Academy is headed by a black woman, Cheryl Boone-Isaacs, still did little to ease whatever tensions over diversity pop up. Even the awarding of Best Picture to Twelve Years A Slave last year was instantly forgotten. Even though I’ve faced the fact that this is showbiz and there’s really no such thing as unfair, I too would like to see more diversity happen.
Diversity Not Just Black And White
It’s not just a case of black actors or directors or other African-American filmworkers of various trades. We should also remember about Latin Americans. The last fifteen years has seen a good number of nominations going to actors from the Latin American countries or Americans of Latin American ancestry but even those are very rare as are the wins. I think Benicio del Toro is the only winner for this century. Just as excluded are Asian actors. I remember there wasn’t a single acting nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon despite its many nominations. There have only been two winners in the history of the Oscars: Miyoshi Umeki and Haing Ngor. Even actors of other races have been shunned aside or given limited acclaim.
Even gender is a diversity issue. Four women have been nominated for Best Director. The first being Lina Wertmuller in 1975. The fourth and most recent being Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 who became the first woman to win the Oscar in that category for The Hurt Locker. Scriptwriting has been more friendly with more female nominees but still predominantly male. Nevertheless this year bit when the script from the hugely successful Gone Girl which was adapted to film by the novel’s own author Gillian Flynn was shunned out of the nominations. Gender diversity is more active in the technical nominations like Best Costume Design or Best Film Editing and even in the short film categories. Nevertheless seeing missing nominations in the higher categories does cause one to notice the exclusivity.
New Century, Bigger Diversity
The biggest surprise of it all is that the 21st century has either equaled, or has come close to equaling, the diversity numbers of the 20th century. On the subject of black actors and actresses, they have achieved five wins and thirty-one total nominations in the whole 20th century and amassed a total of nine wins and twenty-nine nominations in the 21st century. The 21st century has also included breakthroughs like Halle Berry being the first to win Best Actress and Denzel Washington becoming the first ever to win two Oscars. Even in the Best Director category there was only one black director ever nominated in the 20th century: John Singleton for Boyz ‘N Tha Hood. This century there were two: Lee Daniels for Precious and Steve McQueen for 12 Years A Slave. It’s not just African-Americans getting nominations and wins but black actors from many countries being nominated in this century like Djimon Hounsou from Benin, Sophie Okonedo and Chitewel Ejiofor from the UK and Mexican-born Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.
On the subject of other races, one bright light was that 2003 had the most racially diverse set of acting nominees with nine non-white actors nominated including New Zealand Maori Keshia Castle-Hughes, Iranian Shohreh Aghdashloo, half-Indian British actor Ben Kingsley and Japanese actor Ken Watanabe among the many.
Some of you may be shocked to know that 2014 is only the second year in the 21st century that the acting nominations went all to white actors. Makes you wonder what’s more shocking? The fact that all were white or the fact that this is only the second year in the 21st century to do such? The only other year that this has been the case was 2010. Only back then there were no performances by racial minorities that garnered significant buzz to stimulate Oscar buzz. Not like this year where efforts from Selma achieved noticeable buzz.
Diversity is slowly but surely opening up in the directing categories. The last three Best Director wins have been won by racial minorities: Ang Lee, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The 21st century may have had only two female Best Director nominees including one winner but there were only two in the whole 20th century. The 21st century has also opened up to female writers more. I even noticed in 2007 that three of the five scripts nominated for Best Original Screenplay were written by women including the winning script from Juno by Diablo Cody.
The Future Of Diversity In Hollywood
Despite the improvement in diversity over the last few decades, we have to look at the big picture of diversity not just in the Academy but Hollywood as a whole. I will admit that minorities are underserved in terms of box office fare. It’s not like the 90’s or the noughts where there were bigger box office stars of different races. Actually this last century has been an enigma in terms of defining a movie star’s success altogether. However I will say there was noticeably more movies back during those decades where a minority was the main star. We all remember a lot of those hip hop movies from long ago? Or even rappers taking on acting roles? Sometimes you wonder if we should blame Hollywood or the movie-going public? Like why does it seem the most racial diversity we see in terms of blockbuster fare nowadays are Tyler Perry movies?
Back on the topic of the Oscars, I wanted to delay my blog about this because I wanted the firestorm after the nominations to die down. Yes, there were a lot of people angry about the lack of diversity this year. There even some angry enough to dismiss past diversity of Oscar nominees, including AwardsDaily’s Sasha Stone dismissing it as an “Illusion of inclusion,” which is typical of Sasha’s ranting. There were some critics however who pointed out there were a lot of other snubs from deserving efforts from non-minorities reminding us how chancy it is to get nominated. Even one anonymous blogger said “You can’t simply give a nomination to them because they’re a minority. You should nominate them because you feel their performance deserves it.” It is true. Even though I would love to see diversity happen amongst Oscar nominees, I am aware of the harsh realities of showbiz including that of the Academy. In actual fact, the Academy actually does not owe anyone diversity. Same as Hollywood doesn’t really owe anybody anything. The only thing the Academy really owes on ‘Nomination Day’ are nominations to the five best performances and efforts of the year.
One thing I do feel the Academy should do is reorganize itself. It should especially reorganize its ability in selecting members of the Academy. It’s not clear how members of the Academy outside of past Oscar nominees are selected. One thing it should do is allow for more fair rules for allowing for diversity. Whatever panel that selects Academy members should go to more film events like the various film festivals for selecting new members including those with focus on minorities. It should go to more media events as well. I’m even tempted to suggest the Academy should expand its nominees per category from five to seven but that’s up for the Academy to decide.
Since I mentioned film festivals, this is my next focus on how to increase opportunities for minorities, and this isn’t simply for Oscar nominations. Film festivals have to be the most minority-friendly of opportunities. I know because I’ve attended the Vancouver Film festival for many years. I’ve seen films from various countries directed by a diverse variety of people including many films directed by women. Minorities of both race and gender should seize every channel they can to get their works out into the public eye and film festivals are their best bet. There are even ‘specific’ film festivals dedicated to race and ethnicity and even women’s film festivals including one festival that advertises ‘by women for everyone.’ That’s why I said after the Oscar nominations: “You want diversity? Go to a film festival. There you’ll get diversity in film making.”
Since I’m on the topic, that’s another thing I feel minorities should overcome: beating out false stigmas associated with their works. I know I’ve talked a lot about changes and improvements certain professionals should make. I can’t really say the same about minority actors and directors because they’re not really doing anything wrong. They should all keep doing what they’re doing and follow their dreams. Even David and Ava did nothing wrong really and they should keep on chasing their dreams. However they are sometimes given a stigma with their works and efforts that’s not entirely true in which they should fight off. I often feel that most of the film world thinks of black directors to be like Spike Lee who always has an angry view of white people. It’s not 100% true as Selma showed the white supporters of the Selma marches in a positive light. As for female directors, I feel there’s a bit of a myth that sometimes female directors can either direct ‘chick movies’ or be the type that mocks men just like Roseanne Barr used to. It’s not true as I’ve seen films directed by women at the VIFF that depicted men in a fair light. Plus I never saw Ava try to give a negative impression of men in Selma. Yes, these stigmas are an undeserved burden for them but they should fight it by letting their works speak for themselves.
In conclusion, the lack of diversity among the 2014 Oscar nominees not only exposed a big hole in the Academy but also in Hollywood. As if showbiz isn’t unfair enough. 2015 is only three months old. The 2014 Oscars were decided a month ago and the nominations for 2015 are 9 1/2 months away. There have already been film festivals like Sundance, SXSW and Berlin showcasing films for this year. There will be more film festivals this year like Cannes, Venice and Toronto and even smaller film festivals showcasing a multitude of films locally and around the world. Time will tell which will receive Oscar buzz. Time will also pay close attention to potential nominees. However tracing improvements or declines in diversity can’t be traced in a single year. This is something that will have to take at least a decade or two to see if progress in terms of diversity has been achieved. Even though Hollywood and the Academy is as much of a clique as any other channel of showbiz and even smaller film communities, barriers still should be broken and diversity of newcomers should still be welcomed.
2014 was definitely a year when minorities of both race and gender were overlooked in terms of Oscar acclaim. Despite the Academy being more open in the last two decades, most people were left with the common impression: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Only time will tell if improvements in diversity within the Academy and film making as a whole have been made.