Every year, I tell myself I won’t let the Oscar nominations affect my health. And every year, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates the token slave narrative, and ignores women in the directing category, or pats itself on the back for nominating exactly one woman (ever!) for cinematography, my blood pressure rises and my heart rate spikes.
Every year, I watch movies directed by women, starring women, and emphasizing women’s stories that deserve just as much recognition as a Scorcese or Tarantino production. That are as artful as anything Sam Mendes or Noah Baumbach have made. That marry humor and pathos like a Taika Waititi or Rian Johnson script. And every year, I hope the voters inside the guilds and Academy branches pay attention to the movies that look beyond the narrow squint of the white, male gaze. But every year, I write some version of the same headline: Only 4% of the Last Decade’s Biggest Movies Were Directed by Women. The Golden Globes Failed to Nominate Any Female Directors Again. The Screen Actors Guild Nominated Just One Woman of Color for an Individual Acting Award.
Yesterday’s Oscar nominations are more of the same. Sixty-six percent of the Best Picture nominees center the perspectives of white men. A single woman-focused story snuck into one of 10 possible Best Picture slots. Women directors erased from the conversation, and one person of color out of 20 nominated for acting. In fact, the Academy actually doubled down on its worst impulses; it’s the first year ever that four movies received 10 or more nominations, and, you guessed it—they’re all about white men. Congrats to The Irishman, Joker, 1917, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for their achievements.
And apologies to Lulu Wang, Melina Matsoukas and Lorene Scafaria; to Marielle Heller and Alma Har’el and Olivia Wilde and Mati Diop; to Claire Denis and Céline Sciamma. And sorry to Lupita Nyong’o and Awkwafina and Jennifer Lopez, to Park So-Dam and Da’Vine Joy Randolph. Maybe next year.
It’s 2020, and the Oscars—and Hollywood, the institution it stands for and idolizes—are out of excuses. This year, the Academy was explicit about who actually chooses the nominees—John Cho and Issa Rae, the nomination presenters, had to identify each branch that votes on their respective categories, so you can specifically blame the directors and actors for their choices. The documentary branch, as film critic Guy Lodge points out on Twitter, didn’t hesitate to nominate four women directors. And we—the critics and audiences—can see the money poured into awards campaigns, the luncheons and press days and For Your Consideration (FYC) events. This is politics, and Netflix is Bloomberg. You cannot argue that The Irishman is any better than The Farewell, or that Hustlers is inferior to Jojo Rabbit. The only logical conclusion, then, is the Academy doesn’t actually care about shaping a truly equitable industry. The gatekeepers are satisfied with the status quo. They can’t hear our protests from a soundproof room.
I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t want to take away from the movies that deserve their accolades. Parasite earned every nomination it received from the Academy and more. But it’s not enough. Tokenism is a Band-Aid, not progress. The Academy told us white, male stories matter. Someone needs to tell them they’re not the only stories that should.