After last year’s virtual award ceremony, this year’s Oscars will return to its home of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on the 27th of March. Though tuning in at 1 am in the UK may not be the most appealing idea, the results of these awards will reveal how seriously the film industry is attempting to increase diversity. With the recent culling of 8 awards from the live shows, set to be announced while the majority of the stars are still on the red carpet, the Oscars seem to be on track for its traditional celebration of the elite.
The Power of the Dog has dominated discussion with a dozen nominations, including best-adapted screenplay, best actor, and best original score. Predicted to win best picture and best director, with director Jane Campion, the only female nominee in the category, looking to follow last year’s winner Chloe Zhao with Nomadland. Zhao was the first Asian Women to win an Oscar for best director after 93 Academy awards, also winning best picture.
The success of this film also marks a shift in the way that we consume media. As a Netflix drama, the nature of cinema seems to be changing with films becoming more accessible; The Power of the Dog being released on Netflix within two weeks of its cinema debut. This trend is reflected by Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, in the running for four awards, and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, with three nominations- both of which were Netflix productions.
Despite the three nominations for Coda, a movie featuring a predominantly deaf cast, the majority of awards have not surprised the critics, who have commented on the lack of new talent. Amid the nominees for Best Actor are Javier Bardem, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Garfield, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington. It’s important to note that all these nominees have received previous nominations. The same can be said for Best Actress which include the star-studded names of Jessica Chastain, Olivia Coleman, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, and Kristen Stewart. The Oscars have an air of awe and wonder, resulting in nominees and winners of the categories continuing to feature in subsequent films, therefore explaining why familiar faces continue to crop up, with the industry just looking to bring in the cash. This is even more problematic when the nominations are predominantly white and male.
The Academy has come a long way since Hattie McDaniel, the first Black person to win an Oscar, had to accept her trophy in a segregated hotel. However, out of the 336 acting awards, only 9% have gone to people of colour. Smith and Washington’s nominations reveal a first for Oscar history. Never before have there been two black nominations in this category. With Smith the favourite to win for his performance in King Richard, the Academy may be beginning to shake off accusations that its non-white nominations are purely tokenistic, often not resulting in an award.
Over the years the Oscars has been under increased scrutiny over nominees, reaching a peak in 2015 where the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite expressed frustrations with only white acting nominees. Since then, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which vote on the nominations, has increased the diversity of its membership, where 92% were originally white, 75% were male, and there was a median age of 63. Despite meeting its new goals, by 2020 the Academy was still only one-third female and only 19% from “underrepresented minorities”. With the board deciding nominations, and subsequently who wins, it is important audiences keep pressuring them for change. With the inevitability that winning an Oscar will lead to more work, the shift would diversify the film industry.
The majority of the Academy and the films nominated are still American, explaining why Ryûsake Hamaguchi’s nominations are so important. Up for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best International Feature, Drive my Car, is a breakthrough film not in the English language, the likes of which until recent years with Parasite, have gone unrecognised. However, the fact that this is so revolutionary is a worrying thing.
The Oscars are changing, but it is still not what Hollywood should look like. For Black professionals trying to build a career, film is unwelcoming. Less than 6% of the writers, directors, and producers of US films are Black, having consequences on who will be cast in movies and therefore the chances of minorities winning awards. The lack of racial diversity within the Oscars represents a systemic problem that goes back to school and how it is harder for minorities to access education in the arts.
This could be the year that a Black actor wins best lead, and a woman takes best director, however only the ceremony itself will tell. Moreover, these awards do not erase the fact that non-white, non-male talent is still underrepresented and often ignored, especially within the Oscars.
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