Sunday, January 31, 2016

Oscar Nominations 2016: Not a Complete Lack of "Diversity"

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has certainly had a long history of not only the recognition and celebration of film in its eighty-eight year history, but also of certain exclusions that many people believed were just as deserving. The biggest backlash this year—and for the second year in a row—has been the exclusion of actors and filmmakers of color from the top acting and directing categories.

Many believed that such actors as Will Smith (for the football drama Concussion), Idris Elba (for the Netflix movie Beasts of No Nation) and Michael B. Jordan (for the Rocky spinoff Creed), as well as the music biopic Straight Outta Compton (which did receive a best screenplay nomination) deserved recognition. Such famous people as director Spike Lee (who received an Honorary Award at the Academy’s Governor’s Ball this past fall), Smith and wife/actress Jada Pinkett Smith have spoken out on their boycott of the ceremony, scheduled for February 28 with host Chris Rock.

(l-r) Will Smith in Concussion, Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton,
Michael B. Jordan in Creed, and Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation
While this news is concerning, and while the Academy has begun taking steps to include more diversity in its voting and nominating, it should be argued that “diversity” is not just limited to people of color. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “diversity” as “to make diverse, or various, in form or quality,” “to give variety to,” and “to variegate.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.,” as well as “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization” (my emphasis). Once again, “diversity” is not just limited to people of color or race.

Many of this year’s nominees fit the cultural part of the latter definition, representing such countries as Australia (Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller, Carol actress Cate Blanchet), Ireland (Room director Lenny Abrahamson and author/screenwriter Emma Donoghue; Brooklyn actress Saoirse Ronan), Mexico (The Revenant director Alejandro G. Innaritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki), Germany (Steve Jobs actor Michael Fassbender), and of course England (The Revenant actor Tom Hardy, 45 Years actress Charlotte Rampling, Bridge of Spies actor Mark Rylance). In addition, film composer John Williams (who will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute this year) received a record fiftieth Oscar nomination (for scoring the latest Star Wars), and action film icon Sylvester Stallone (an Italian-American) received his first acting nomination (supporting actor for Creed) in nearly forty years—and for playing the same iconic character (Rocky Balboa) he created in the original 1976 film.

Best Director nominees, the world over: (l-r) Adam McKay (USA), George Miller (Australia), Alejandro G. Innaritu (Mexico), Lenny Abrahamson (Ireland), Tom McCarthy (USA) 
And speaking of action films, this is a rare year for the Academy regarding the fact that the films that received the most nominations are action epics that were box-office hits and critical darlings in 2015. The Revenant, a brutal western/historical drama, received twelve nominations. Mad Max: Fury Road, a post-apocalyptic chase-fest, received ten. The Martian, a sci-fi drama/comedy, received seven. And Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh episode in George Lucas’s space saga, received five. With these latter two films, this marks the third year in a row for recognized films that have arguably been reviving interest in space exploration and adventure (following 2013’s Gravity and 2014’s Interstellar).

(l-r) Matt Damon in The Martian, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant,
and Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road
For the record, here’s a list of whom and what I wish should have gotten recognized this year:
- Actor Jacob Tremblay, for his remarkable performance as Brie Larson’s five-year-old son in Room (my number-one pick for the standout film of 2015).
- Inside Out, for Best Picture. While it was recognized, not surprisingly, in the Best Animated Feature and Best Original Screenplay categories, this Pixar hit is another example of a film that transcends its medium (animation) and is simply a great story and film.
- Actress Charlize Theron, for Mad Max: Fury Road. She agreeably stole the driver’s seat from Tom Hardy in this non-stop thrill-ride, leading a revolt against a totalitarian villain. It’s the quiet and subtle intensity that makes Theron compelling and unforgettable.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens, for Best Picture. Why not? Avatar (another billion-dollar hit) got a nom back in 2010, as did the original Star Wars from 1977.

Generally, my main issue with the Oscars is that most of the films that get nominated every year don’t come out until the end of the year. (This year is exceptional, along with the fact that I did get to see most of the nominated films before their announced accolades.) At the same time, this isn’t the only awards show there is. In a recent interview with Graham Norton, rapper/actor Ice Cube touched on this notion, adding the misguided thought of “not having enough icing on the cake.”

All in all, it’s really no proof of who is best-of-the-best, no matter what background or ethnicity or country one comes from.

1 comment:

  1. This is exactly why it's great that blogs, like this one, exist. There can only be a certain number of nominees in each category every year, which isn't enough to highlight the diversity many would like to see represented at the Academy Awards. While any list is going to be highly subjective no matter who compiles it, at least we have access to a variety of platforms to acknowledge the films, performances, writers, cinematographers, composers, etc. that others may fail to recognize.

    This is a good reminder that diversity means considering everyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity.