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And the Oscar Doesn’t Go To…Why Do Women and Minorities Get Upstaged at the Academy Awards?

Why do racism and sexism seem to prevail in Hollywood in 2020? Maybe it's not that simple.

The March sisters of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture of 2019. Saoirse Ronan (2nd from left) is nominated for Best Actress, her 4th Academy Award nomination by the age of 25. (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria, VA – It’s February. Black History Month and Valentine’s Day are on the calendar. The temptation to do the usual Oscar spotlight with predictions and recommendations for great romance and African American thematic Oscar-winning films gave way to addressing the never-ending head scratcher: Why do racism and sexism seem to prevail in Hollywood in 2020? Maybe it’s not that simple.

Oscar frequently splits the Best Director and Best Picture award when both are nominated, leaving cinephiles wondering, “Did the film direct itself?” This year the Academy nominated four films for Best Picture without nominating its director. Ford v. Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, and Marriage Story all received the Oscar nod for Best Picture but not for direction, begging the question, WHY NOT?

The outcry regarding the award season slam-dunk slight upon Greta Gerwig’s direction of the critically acclaimed Little Women has been attributed to the male-dominated movie making machinery. Gerwig’s shut out may well be reduced to male bias but how do you explain the brilliant direction of Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story with six nominations and a near sweep of the acting categories failing to get recognition?

Unlike other film and television awards, the almost 7,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominate individuals solely within their own craft branch. Actors nominate performances, editors nominate film editing, production designers nominate production design, cinematographers nominate cinematography. Everyone votes for Best Picture. There are 17 specific branches, each requiring a laborious application to join the club, unless you are invited. Nominees generally receive an invitation to join the Academy.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver give rivetingly painful performances to perfection in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture. (Courtesy photo)

The Academy has created an inherent Catch 22 in the nomination process. Women and minorities have to be nominated by members of a long-standing male and white-dominated club who may or may not want them as a member. If you are nominated you are usually accepted to that branch of the Academy. Membership has all the privileges. Progress toward inclusivity and diversity has therefore been one or two steps forward then ten back.

Doing the math, the counterintuitive selection process is inherently flawed more than purposefully discriminatory. There are up to ten slots for Best Picture nominations. This year there are nine films nominated for BP. In every other category there are only five. Academy members then must rank their choices in order of priority from first to fifth. The most number one votes receive top consideration. Once the “first choice” votes arrive at a specified number, that one automatically earns a nomination. The lowest scoring films are discarded. Then the process is repeated for the final four slots The golden ticket is calculated by dividing the number of number-one votes by the number of nominees allowed in that category plus one- so six for all award categories save Best Picture, which is 11.

The Oscar gatekeeping as such isn’t provably racist or sexist. It’s quite simply incalculably bad math. A simple solution is to expand all the categories to ten. The Best Picture category was initially expanded to increase the profitability of films touting the branding of Best Picture nominee. To orchestrate the nomination process so that the most votes for an individual or a film don’t get nominated engenders self-serving exclusion. Oscar nominations and awards elevate talent to unparalleled demand and value in Hollywood.

The golden statuette is virtual sold gold. This year’s Best Picture nominees collectively made over $750 million. Last year, thanks to the blockbuster popularity of Black Panther that figure was an astronomical $1.3 billion. Breaking the art-film glass ceiling for Best Picture, a Black Superhero Marvel Comics film more than obliterated the category. Yet Green Book won the Oscar. This year the DC comic book villain Joker leads in nominations and box-office boffo. Joaquin Phoenix is odds-on favorite to reprise Heath Ledger’s posthumous win as the Joker in the Warner Brother’s origins biopic. Regardless, Best Picture bets are for 1917 as the win.

Imagine a 2020 Oscar show where veteran film and TV living legend Alan Alda received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor as the kind-hearted, hapless divorce attorney in Marriage Story. Ageism is seemingly as rampant as racism and sexism. Alda delivered as compelling a performance (bravely filming with Parkinson’s-shakes and all) as did Laura Dern, a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actress win. Brad Pitt has got the Oscar in hand but wouldn’t it have been outstanding to have seen Alda Akon nominated with Jamie Foxx for Just Mercy?

Cynthia Erivo, nominated for Best Actress as well as Best Original Song, “Stand Up”, for Harriet has the inside track for the acting award. The Academy voters know when they have dropped the ball. They also love firsts. Voters may readily elect Erivo over Zellweger as Judy Garland but Sir Elton John, nominated for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”, makes for daunting competition. Nonetheless what a coup it would be to see the indomitable Cynthia Erivo on stage twice February 9 accepting her first and second Oscar.

Nominated for Best Picture Jojo Rabbit stars Scarlet Johansson, nominated for Best Supporting Actress as Rosie Betzler and for Best Actress as Nicole in Marriage Story. (Courtesy photo)

Terence Blanchard’s eloquent original score for Harriet was indisputably Oscar caliber. It’s doubtful it would beat out sentimental favorite John Williams. At 87 with five Oscar wins and an astonishing 52 nominations, the record for a living person, Williams and the Star Wars saga are beloved. Only Walt Disney has more. With the publicity power of Disney behind the Star Wars franchise and the Newman cousins cancelling out each other’s votes it likely remains a battle between the iconic Williams and Joker composer Hildur Guònadöttir. Blanchard, nominated last year for his haunting BlacKkKlansman score, belonged equally among them all.

Parasite may well be the little film that could, winning to saving the day. The South Korean film, in subtitles, is the darling of the Hollywood glitterati elite and cinephiles alike, just as the critically acclaimed Oscar-winning Roma of last year’s awards stole the show. Roma won Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Film) with Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón. With six Oscar nominations, fresh off the 2020 SAG win (being the first foreign-language film to take the Marquee award) Parasite, is holding court currying favor for both the Best International Feature Film and Best Picture. Directed by Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) and co-written with Han Jin-won, the film won the prestigious Palme d’ Or at Cannes, receiving an eight-minute standing ovation.

Oscar winners Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford v. Ferrari, nominated for Best Picture but not for Best Director. (Courtesy photo)

Despite Hollywood historically being more local than global, the critical and popular success of Parasite has exponentially elevated the Hollywood currency of Bong, making him a real contender. Think Best Foreign Film and Best Director long shot if Sam Mendes doesn’t win for 1917. Sadly, we must still only imagine an Oscar awards event where Awkwafina, winner of the 2020 Golden Globes award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, is among the extraordinary women nominated as Best Actress. Expand all the Academy Awards nomination category slots to ten. Perhaps even then the disenfranchised white, male, middle-aged comedian stands a chance. So here’s to you Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems. Hollywood loves you more than you will know.

AMC Hoffman will be screening the Best Picture Showcase featuring all the nominated films prior to the Oscar 92nd Annual Awards Ceremony. Two days: February 2 from 12:00 p.m. and February 8. Check the website for film schedules and details:


Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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