This year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences went big. They went small. They went safe. And they went white.
With 12 nominations, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s sweeping epic The Revenant leads the pack, with Mad Max: Fury Road not far behind with 10 nods. Both films push the art of storytelling through the visual medium, opting for visuals over dialogue and vistas over traditional character-building. The Martian is the populist choice on this list — a commercial, accessible film with big aspirations that hinged on the journey of one men.
All three films stand in stark contrast to the smaller, intimate Brooklyn and Room, two films that explore the human condition through the female lens.
And then there is Spotlight, The Big Short and Bridge of Spies: movies with something to say about our world. Masterfully crafted, flawlessly executed, tackling important issues through riveting storytelling.
But as much as The Academy rewarded diversity in storytelling, it eschewed cultural diversity, going with an all-white group of acting nominees and best picture nominees. Multicultural films like Straight Outta Compton and Creed were ignored with the exception of a screenplay nomination for Compton and a supporting actor nomination for Creed’s Sylvester Stallone. In addition, the two LGBT films of the year: Carol and The Danish Girl were also ignored in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, though individual performances were celebrated.
The group also stuck to the script when nominating its actresses. Even the Hollywood Foreign Press thought it absurd that actress Alicia Vikander should be shoe-horned into the supporting actress category for her performance in The Danish Girl. Yet the Academy didn’t dispute the notion, adding the Swedish actress to the Best Supporting Actress list, along with Rooney Mara for her role in Carol.
The Academy is a strange lot. On the one hand, it celebrates bold, risk-taking filmmaking but yet it is still resistant to rewarding work centered on anything other then the heterosexual male experience. We can take heart that Brooklyn, Room, and Mad Max: Fury Road — films exploring the female condition — were recognized, yet it doesn’t feel like a full portrait of the year’s best when movies like Straight Outta Compton or performances like that of Beasts of No Nation’s Idris Elba are not invited.
The directors and writers, at least, didn’t just check the boxes of the most renowned contenders. The directors ignored veteran filmmakers Ridley Scott (The Martian) and Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies), opting for newer voices like Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and Adam McKay (The Big Short). The writers were even more surprising with their choices, rewarding the Straight Outta Compton writers S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman; Room’s Emma Donaghue; and Carol’s Phyllis Nagy with nominations. Stalwarts like Aaron Sorkin (Steve Jobs) and Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight) got shut out.
Yet when it came to Best Picture and the actor categories, the continued lack of diversity is really a disappointment. While changes are afoot at the Academy to alter its voting body, lifetime memberships make that process interminably slow. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times estimated that more than 90 percent of the Academy was white and more than 75 percent was male. Until that changes, the awards will continue to appeal to and reward certain dominant tastes and never be a true reflection of our entire culture.