On January 24th, this year’s Oscar nominations were finally revealed. La La Land (my personal favourite this year, and maybe ever) grabbed a record-equalling 14 nominations, leading the way against a field of amazing films, including Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, and My Life as a Zucchini. Notably, eight people of colour were nominated for directing and acting, a step up from previous years. I was planning to submit a satirical piece on the nominations to Stranded along the lines of: “Boycott the Oscars! Trump was just elected, do you think we’re ready to recognize this many actors/actresses of colour right now?! Start with Oscar Isaac or Jennifer Lopez and break us in slowly!” Naturally, one could say that I should deal with this topic in a more tactful way, so here’s a more level-headed piece in the Film & Music section.
Last year, my friend and I started a tradition. We made a bet on who would be able to predict the most Oscar winners; I lost and had to wear an atrocious pink fluffy jacket (and something more embarrassing underneath) for a full day. This year the stakes are higher, so I need to choose carefully. Some of the categories are easier to predict; I think it’s cute that the Academy needs to pretend that there’s a chance La La Land might not win the Best Original Score & Song awards and that they may go to the other nominees. Then there are other categories, like Best Picture, which are harder to decide. I’d like to preface this by recalling the 2014 Oscars. 12 Years a Slave ended up winning Best Picture and Ellen referred to this in her opening monologue: “Possibility #1; 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility #2; you’re all racist.” Although 12 Years a Slave ended up being the clear winner, with a Golden Globe and BAFTA (among others), there was trepidation within the Academy. Would voters back Gravity, a gripping, visually spectacular, but non-political film, or 12 Years a Slave, which was a masterpiece in its own right, but was also socially relevant and politically charged?
According to the L.A. Times, two voters privately admitted that the “films about slavery can’t lose” sentiment was why they voted for 12 Years a Slave, without watching it. Which brings us to this year; my vote for Best Picture would be torn between La La Land and Moonlight. This choice raises an issue that’s much more significant than “will Wilfred need to publicly embarrass himself again?” and in my mind, this evokes the 12 Years a Slave dilemma. Today’s social climate has given political undertones to Moonlight’s success. With that in mind, would Moonlight take the award, or La La Land, which was outstanding in an artistically motivated and non-political way?
Voting Moonlight to make a statement on diversity could make the Oscars less legitimate as a celebration of film. On the other hand, film is an accessible and effective medium for conveying themes of social relevance, and the Academy should therefore recognize Moonlight as not only an excellent film, but an excellent film with an important message. Arguably, this makes a “safe” choice, like Moonlight, have just as much legitimate significance. Does a story about growing up, masculinity, and being African-American outweigh a story about love, jazz, and surviving in the world of music and film? Should today’s political climate influence this? If you were looking for an opinion, you won’t get one because writing this article has made me even more torn than I was originally. I’m also determined to keep my final votes a secret from my friend until the ceremony date, so it’s all fair game—nice try, scumbag.
Dev Patel’s Best Supporting Actor nomination reminded me of something else; the lack of Asian nominees throughout Hollywood’s history. I realize that other groups deserve to be discussed, but we’d need another article. If you go to the Wikipedia page entitled “List of Asian Academy Award winners and nominees” you’ll find:
- 8 Best Picture nominees
- 2 Best Actor nominees (Both are Ben Kingsley)
- 1 Best Actress nominee
- 8 Best Supporting Actor nominees (Two of which are Ben Kingsley)
- 5 Best Supporting Actress nominees
- 6 Best Director nominees
If this list seems substantial, remember that the Oscars began in 1929. Another thing to take into account is that our society tends to restrict the definition of Asian to the “Far East” and doesn’t consider that the continent contains many more countries and people—for instance, Ben Kingsley is half Indian. Considering all of this, 30 Asian nominees in the major categories I listed is very sparse.
Although I think that highlighting actors, actresses, directors, screenwriters (and all the rest) of colour is important, reading their various lists on Wikipedia and seeing how little of them have been given recognition in Hollywood felt like reading a collective admission of guilt. It was like when I worked at an ice cream shop last summer and my boss mistimed our weekly delivery, leaving us with half of our listed flavours; “We’re sorry we don’t have much, but what we DO have is great!” The film industry’s got work to do and, no matter who wins Best Picture and what this signifies socially, I think this year’s nominations are an optimistic sign, following the protests of the Academy Awards in the last two years. I can hesitantly say that we’re moving in the right direction, and now we just have to hope that more people of colour in film are being given chances to show their talent. Hollywood better not leave us with just vanilla.