Hot Takes: The 2017 Oscars

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 6:24pm

It’s “La La Land” ’s world and we’re all just living in it.

Early yesterday morning, while you were sleeping through your 8 A.M., the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their nominations for the 89th Oscars, including 14 nominations for Damien Chazelle’s “millennial musical.” The only other films to land that many nominations are “All About Eve” and “Titanic,” both of which took home the centerpiece Best Picture award in their respective years.

So, “La La Land” is good. After the film cleaned up at the Golden Globes earlier this month (walking away with the award in each category for which it was nominated), it wasn’t a surprise to see its name all over the Oscar list.

There were some nice little surprises. Lucas Hedge’s Supporting Actor nomination for his role in “Manchester by the Sea” comes to mind, as does the screenplay for “The Lobster” by Yorgos Lanthimos. Both are unlikely to take home a statue, but deserve to keep company with the other nominees.

There were some bizarre surprises like Hollywood pariah Mel Gibson being brought back into the light with a Best Director nom and the complete vacancy of the controversialThe Birth of a Nation,” a film which, this time last year, was already being praised as a Best Picture frontrunner. In other odd, record-breaking news, “OJ: Made in America” became the longest film ever nominated, at a whopping 467 minutes.

Similarly, some expected names were missing from the list. Amy Adams and Ralph Fiennes (for “Arrival” and “A Bigger Splash” respectively) both gave performances I thought deserving of nomination. Especially since both have climbed to the top of the Hollywood without picking up a golden statue along the way.

What was really surprising though — a rather relieving surprise — was how diverse the top of the ballot was. After last year’s Oscars were strikingly White, there was worry in the film community (or at least people on twitter) that this year’s awards would similarly ignore the contributions of actors and filmmakers of color. 

It would be easy (and I’ve heard it said already) to say that the Oscars are no longer “so White.” They’re noticeably less White, especially in the acting categories. Six Black actors are nominated this year—setting a record. Mahershala Ali seems to be the frontrunner in the Supporting Actor category and Viola Davis is a lock-in for Supporting Actress. Additionally, three of the films nominated for Best Picture (“Moonlight,” “Fences,” and “Hidden Figures”) center around a predominantly Black cast. However, while Black actors stepped further into the spotlight, Asian and Latinx performances were noticably missing, with Dev Patel picking up the only nomination for an Asian performer for his role in "Lion."

But there’s still a huge race disparity in the technical categories. Bradford Young, who is nominated for the cinematography in “Arrival” is the first Black cinematographer ever nominated for the award—a tragedy intensified when you realize he’s the same guy responsible for the stunning cinematography in “Selma,” for which he was snubbed a nomination. In an interview with Ava DuVernay, who he worked with on “Selma,” he notes that he is only the seventh Black cinematographer inducted into the American Society of Cinematographers.

One exception is the Documentary Feature category—four out of the five directors of the films nominated are Black. And, even better, these directors are all also producers on their films, meaning they’ll get to walk away with a statuette if their film’s win.

So the Oscars are still pretty White and, more specifically, dominated by White men. Unfortunately, the only categories in which we can see women regularly nominated are Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

There are, yet again, no women nominated for the award for Best Directing. Only one woman, Allison Schroeder who co-wrote “Hidden Figures” with Theodore Melfi, was nominated in the writing categories (for which there are ten nominees). The only woman nominated in the editing category is Joi McMillon, who is nominated alongside her partner Nat Sanders for their work on “Moonlight.” McMillon is also the first Black woman nominated in this category.

That there are women and people of color nominated in these categories is an improvement from past award shows, but their limited numbers seems to hint to a larger deficit in Hollywood on non-White, non-male filmmakers. Hollywood has gotten better—at least a little better—at making movies about women and people of color, but fares less well when it comes to the other side of the camera.