Let’s start with the good news: #OscarsSoWhite seems to be dying its deserved death a little more with each passing year.
Oscar nominations went live this morning, and we’re looking at a fairly fantastic line-up of diverse --albeit not conventional-- films. In the category of Best Director alone a woman, a black man, and a Hispanic man are all represented. Not to mention that for the first time in nearly fifty years, a black woman has been nominated for Best Screenplay (“Mudbound,” Dee Rees). A Pakastani-American has been awarded a nod for screenwriting (Kumail Nanjiani for “The Big Sick”) as has a ninety-year old gay man (“Call Me By Your Name,” James Ivory.) That’s quite a line up. Yes, we can easily huff about the lack of such nominees in the Oscar’s ninety-year history, but what good would that really do? Why shout backwards into the void when you can face tomorrow with conviction and hope?
So what is to be extrapolated from such a list? It surely doesn’t prove that racism is dead or that women have shed their marginalized place in the world, but it does denote change. Change. (Remember when that was a thing, America? You voted for it back in 2008 and again in 2012?) This list says something about where entertainment is heading in a large sense, and what the powers that be within that industry are willing to put up with. Oprah and a noir-clad attendee list made it clear that time was, and still is, up at the Golden Globes. The Oscar’s have packed a second punch, so to speak. Moreover, just sit down and watch some of the movies up for best picture. They’re films about angst, racism, friendship, a beautiful love story between two men, an angry tale of a mother seeking absolution and justice, a newspaper holding the government accountable for decades of deceit. These films are a combination of typically-regaled “modern classics” as well as indie hits that strike a chord with liberal hearts and tired souls. To all the pessimists out there, snap out of it. To we optimists, this list is huge.
More generally speaking, it appears that the Oscars have served as a microcosm of American society at large, and continue to do so. Not only are we continuously looking to the Academy to diversify its own body and therefore its nominations as well, but we are also facing an attempt at overhaul of the white male hegemony that has long been Hollywood. It is absolutely easier said than done--after all, we’re talking about a famously American, gilded industry that has for decades turned a profit off of mistreated child stars, suppressed voices, shady dealings, and an overall currency of sexual favors. For women absolutely, but yes, men as well, it has been a perfectly dark underworld juxtaposed with the glamour we see at the surface and the fairytales we worship it for spinning. Is the entertainment world so very unlike any other industry? Is it so very unlike our own government? Aren’t all of the aforementioned systems industries we long to believe in, yet constantly feel betrayed by, hoodwinked by, and disappointed in? And is it possible, plausible, that they are capable of change?
The question remains in regards to Hollywood and American society in general, where does this leave us? What do all of these implosions and scandals, forward momentum and strangled progress say about who we are today? I can only say this: we’ve made a baby step forward after years of jogging in place, years of stepping quite obviously backwards as well. Life imitates movies and movies imitate life; this dual statement cannot be disproven. Let’s celebrate even the minor victories--like a more diverse Oscar slate-- and fight harder for larger victories while we do so. Let art be the manner by which we shake them down, friends.
Isabella Welch is a graduate of UCLA with a degree in history. Her writing has been featured in history journals, travel blogs, arts & culture magazines, and more. Director of Editorial & Creative Development at Bob Cut Mag, lover of stories and tinto de verano, she’s usually found wandering the Headlands.