Many of the headlines coming out of the Oscar nominations this morning read that the Academy has just “barely averted” #OscarsSoWhite because of the inclusion of Cynthia Erivo and Parasite which is true… I guess… but it’s also a total simplification. Because if nominating one Black person is the requirement for avoiding the accusation of #OscarsSoWhite, it’s an easy hurdle to clear – and it also sets up a minimum requirement for them. Which is the power of ONE.
Does ONE nomination get them a pass? Or does it still reinforce the fact that people of colour are always only considered for the fewest spaces? It was either Cynthia Erivo or Awkwafina, two women of colour up for one spot; don’t think for a second that Cynthia or Awkwafina were challenging Renee Zellweger, Charlize Theron, Scarlet Johansson, or Saoirse Ronan. And while Cynthia Erivo is great in Harriet, don’t forget, she’s playing Harriet Tubman, a Black woman who freed herself from slavery – the slavery association is still there. That’s where the Academy feels safe in its recognition of Black women. So this doesn’t represent change. In fact, what it does reflect is more of the same, measures designed to look like change when, really, they’re just protectionary moves designed to preserve the status quo.
What is the status quo? The status quo would be a nomination for Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell. Not sure if you heard but Richard Jewell was a bust at the box office and not critically embraced. But Richard Jewell is a Clint Eastwood film and those Palm Springs voters, they know who Kathy Bates is, they’ve rewarded her before. This is not a knock on Kathy Bates but on the system, a system that clearly didn’t take Jennifer Lopez’s performance in Hustlers seriously. Maybe some of you didn’t either, maybe you didn’t care for the movie, maybe you were just like, Hustlers is not Oscar material. And if your benchmark is Moonlight or Spotlight or Brokeback Mountain (which should have won Best Picture), I might see your point. But that’s not THEIR benchmark. Their benchmark is Bohemian Rhapsody, nominated for Best Picture last year. Their benchmark is A Star Is Born, nominated for Oscar last year. If Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born were taken seriously…why not Hustlers? And why not JLo? If the answer is a variation on “JLo was just being JLo” then my response to you is…
See Joaquin Phoenix. He plays a loner, a socially awkward, damaged man in Joker. Which is the character he’s been playing in EVERY ONE OF HIS MOVIES FOR THE LAST 20 YEARS. Joaquin and Leonardo DiCaprio share the same acting DNA. It’s been forever since they’ve given us the range of Ryan Gosling or Jake Gyllenhaal so if you’re painting JLo with the “no range” brush, ask yourself why a woman doesn’t deserve the same benefits that come with that (lack of) range. That question also applies to Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name. They didn’t even give it a chance even though it’s scoring at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and a very high 73% on Metacritic, the Academy just isn’t here for Eddie Murphy, the actor. Or maybe they didn’t even see it.
Because we’ve been hearing about the voters getting selective at screenings. They had a hard time getting male voters to see Little Women. For sure they didn’t see The Farewell and Queen & Slim. And Dolemite falls under that category too.
Amazingly though, Parasite got through, and that is indeed what the Academy got right today. Parasite won the Palme d’Or back in May and Sarah will have more on Parasite soon but it’s worth noting, which I’m sure she’ll repeat, that despite Parasite’s nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay – all major categories – none of the actors were nominated. Think about how incongruous that is for a film to be appreciated for its direction and writing…but not its acting? How does that work? Even an Oscar success story like Parasite reveals the Academy’s bias.