An Oscar statuette doesn’t have ears, but Academy Award voters are listening, as this year’s nominations make clear.
Complaints about a membership too white and sexist and months of scandalous Hollywood revelations were answered with a list of nominees that’s practically hashtag-proof.
#OscarsSoWhite? Get Out. #MeToo? Stay out, James Franco, and welcome, guy-who-isn’t-Kevin-Spacey.
That’s only scratching the surface of a notable shift in a notoriously tone-deaf organization. Several categories feature nominees making or joining history; that it took 90 years to make their marks is proof of past obstacles.
Tuesday’s nominations are the first solid proof that the academy’s inclusion strategy of adding younger, diverse members is making a difference.
Certainly Get Out, a racial satire disguised as a horror flick, wouldn’t be a best picture finalist in less enlightened years. Nor would it gain nominations for previously unknown African-American lead actor Daniel Kaluuya and first-time writer-director Jordan Peele.
Peele is only the fifth black filmmaker nominated for the best director Oscar. He’s not the only artist making history in the category; Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig also made the final cut, the fifth woman earning a best director slot. Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) is the only woman to win the directing Oscar; no black director has.
Kaluuya is joined in the best actor category by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) while Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) and previous winner Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) join the supporting actress race. None are expected to win with Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) or Allison Janney (I, Tonya) in competition, but Get Out and Mudbound each earned four nominations.
Four nominees of color in 20 acting slots is lower than last year’s record six nominees. But it’s continued improvement over 2015 and 2016 when none were people of color, igniting the #OscarsSoWhite backlash.
Gerwig’s best director nomination comes after Natalie Portman called out the Golden Globes onstage for its all-male finalists. Oscar nomination ballots weren’t due until five days later, so Portman’s jab and Gerwig’s stirring acceptance speech later may have made a difference.
Certainly those five days made a difference to Franco, whose performance in The Disaster Artist won the Golden Globe for musical/comedy actor. Hours later, Franco was accused on social media of sexual misconduct, for which he later pledged to make amends. His career penance started Tuesday. There’s no other way to consider Franco’s exclusion after a fruitful awards season.
Meanwhile, Oscar winner Christopher Plummer rejoined the supporting actor race for All the Money in the World, in which he famously replaced Spacey after sexual allegations. At 88, Plummer is now the oldest acting Oscar nominee ever; he was already the oldest winner for Beginners at age 82.
Also of historical note: Rachel Morrison became the first woman ever nominated for the best cinematography Oscar, for the World War II race drama Mudbound. That such a project, financed by the streaming service Netflix, garnered four nominations (two for Blige including best song) is another sign of new inclusive times.
Then again, Meryl Streep was nominated for the 21st time. Some things never change.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.