2020 Oscar Nominations Showcase A Voting Body Out of Touch with Popular Culture

Colleen Secaur, Staff Editor

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For the past decade, award seasons have marked the annual election of movies deemed the year’s most crucial contributions to film; although largely deserving of these accolades, many share a common characteristic: an entirely white performance and production. This pattern of snubbing equally deserving films created by people of color has spawned movements such as #OscarsSoWhite, which has brought many industry people of color to boycott Oscar night.

Several years after the movement reached the mainstream media, I regret to say that virtually no progress has been made. This frustrating lack of diversity can best be summed up by presenter Issa Rae, after announcing the nominations for Best Director, sighing, “Congratulations to all those men.” Indeed, for 2020, the Academy made the decision not to welcome any women into the distinguished ranks of the five female directors ever nominated for an Oscar. This despite a strong year for female directors, with highlights including, but not limited to, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Mati Diop’s Atlantics, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, and Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy

The lack of diversity isn’t limited only to gender. In a year with excellent performances from actors of color such as Awkwafina, Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Lopez, and virtually the entire cast of Parasite, only one actor of color was nominated (Cynthia Erivo for Harriet), while Scarlett Johnasson was nominated twice. Furthermore, Nyong’o and Lopez’s performances in genre films – each praised as career bests for accomplished actresses – were ultimately dismissed in favor of more dramatic, albeit less accomplished fare in what was considered to be a weak category this year. Interestingly enough, Joaquin Phoenix has been the frontrunner in the crowded Best Actor category – a category that yielded all-white nominees – for a definitively genre-based film. The lack of nominations for the cast of Parasite as well, a film that made history as the first Korean film nominated for Best Picture, is a dispiriting referendum on the Academy’s feelings toward the film as a technical achievement rather than an acting achievement.

The Academy is perhaps too proud, and dogmatic to accept the diminutive impact their nominee and winning selections have on the film industry. When they voted for Crash as the best picture at the 2006 Oscars over Brokeback Mountain, the ensuing cultural outrage demonstrated why Brokeback Mountain is ultimately the most impactful film from that year. The same goes for The English Patient over Fargo in 1996 (seriously, who’s going to make limited series about the The English Patient over two decades after its release?), or even In the Heat of the Night over The Graduate in 1967. 

It’s been long established that the Academy’s taste is based upon what an aging, overwhelmingly white and male, voting population believes cinema should be, rather than what it actually is in 2020. Thus, when beautiful, jaw-droppingly moving films such as The Farewell, Little Women, or even The Last Black Man in San Francisco don’t get nominations (or the amount they deserve), it makes me less angry than ill-at-ease that the gatekeepers of supposed good taste and high filmic achievement choose to be so unabashedly biased and ignorant.