After the controversy surrounding the #BAFTASsowhite and the near total absence of people of colour in Britain’s premier film awards ceremony, one of the biggest questions surrounding this year’s Academy Awards was whether or not their voters would fare any better in recognising diverse ranges of talent. The purpose of discussing inclusion in awards ceremonies is not to demand that quotas be set up to displace high quality films from the awards in favour of marginalised groups, simply to recognise that excellent work from women and POCs in the film industry often goes unrecognised.
On that note, Greta Gerwig. Little Women has been praised as both an excellent adaption of an American classic as well as a high-quality piece of cinema. Despite nominations for Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh in the acting categories and a Best Picture nod, Greta Gerwig has been inexplicably overlooked for Best Director, leaving the list with only men.
In terms of racial diversity, the Academy scores only slightly higher than the BAFTAS with a Best Actress nomination for Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman. However, even if one were to ignore the idea of diversity as a self-validating reason to include certain films, one must question whether or not the current crop of nominations really represent the best cinema had to offer in 2019. The Best Picture list especially reads as a popularity contest with films that are instantly recognisable to perhaps the majority of moviegoers (Parasite and a few others are notable exceptions). In no way should the Academy Awards be biased in favour of largely unknown arthouse movies, giving off strong vibes of snobbery, but neither should it revolve around giving a marketing push to the likes of Joker.
Returning to diversity, even when black films receive nominations, the recipients are usually highly predictable, relating to either slavery or twentieth century civil rights movements. With Moonlight being a significant exception, the Academy has a general preference for stories about people of colour that allow room for some form of white saviour to stand up equally against oppression; The Help and Green Book come to mind. Even Cynthia Erivo’s nomination falls into this general trend.
While the film selections raise a number of questions on the Academy’s approach to nominations, these are the ones we have been given this year. My mind now turns to potential victors in each category. Best Picture sees two critically lauded Netflix produced films in Marriage Story and The Irishman, alongside box office hit Joker. Joker winning Best Picture would send a message similar to that of Return of the King’s sweep in 2004, that the genre film blockbuster has returned as the dominant force in Hollywood.