In the latest of popular culture blunders by a whitewashed majority of film experts and pundits, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its list of nominees for the 88th Academy Awards, to nearly universal frustration. Well, the list of films nominated for best picture and best director, along with the actors and actresses who received nominations, were overwhelmingly white.
This drew the ire of both members of the general public and the filmmaking community, as they struggled to respond to the fact that in 2016, there was such a dearth of color in cinema’s most prestigious award ceremony. Among the famous critics were Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o, George Clooney and Spike Lee, and what can even be said about that? They’re right.
“Straight Outta Compton” should have been nominated for best picture, but it was given a consolation prize of best adapted screenplay instead. The fact that Chiwetel Ejiofor somehow managed to not get a nomination for best supporting actor for his performance in “The Martian” is surprising at best, and downright criminal at worst. However, there’s no point in saying all of this when other people who are more important and influential in cinema have already said it, so it would be more expedient to focus on what the Academy actually did right this time around.
In terms of gender and sexual diversity, this was actually quite a better year than most. One of the nominees for best picture (among nine other awards) is “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a film about the dangers of the patriarchy and the oppression and objectification of women. It includes Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, one of cinema’s new great female protagonists. “Carol” is a lesbian love story, and has been nominated for six awards, including best actress for Cate Blanchett, best supporting actress for Rooney Mara and best adapted screenplay.
Although there was a paltry display of representation for racial minorities, there was still some. The aforementioned Chiwetel Ejiofor’s star turn “The Martian” was nominated for best picture. “The Martian” is not only a film where African-Americans play genius physicists, but where the surprise heroes turn out to be the heads of the Chinese National Space Agency, who provide secret technology in order to save their American counterpart at great personal and financial expense.
Of course, these aren’t excuses for the exclusion of African-Americans from nominations which they more than earned. It is important to give credit where credit is due and to remember that the men and women who make up the Academy are not angels or devils, but just men and women who are prone to both negative and positive trends.