Per tradition, after the many (many) months of campaigning — the Q&A’s, the glad-handing, the catered cocktails and specialty screenings — it all came down to the Oscar nominations being read early on a Tuesday morning. And that’s where tradition appears to have ended.
After decades of paint-by-number Oscar darlings that tended to feature the same names and faces on repeat (you know the kind we mean), the class of nominees for this year’s 90th Academy Awards feels like a breath of fresh air. Get Out’s Jordan Peele became the first African-American ever nominated for directing, writing, and Best Picture in the same year (and only the third person of any race to receive all three for his first film); Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig became just the fifth woman to crack the directing category (on her first solo directorial outing, no less); Dee Rees is the first African-American woman to be nominated for an adapted screenplay; and her Mudbound collaborator Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated for cinematography. Oh, and Logan became the first live-action superhero movie ever nominated in a writing category. Take that, art-house snobs.
Such change did not arrive out of nowhere. In January 2016, after being hammered repeatedly about #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it would be doubling the number of women and minorities by 2020. Just last year a whopping 774 new members were inducted, 39 percent female and 30 percent people of color. It’s not even close to a complete fix — that only raises women in the Academy from 27 percent in 2016 to 28, and minority membership from 11 percent to 13 — but it’s a start. “You’re seeing a systemic problem that has been exposed, and hopefully we’ll rectify it,” one new Academy member told EW last fall. “I think this is a much needed reset.”
Indeed, how else to explain that four out of the five directing nominees are first-timers, while Steven Spielberg (The Post) was left out? (Paul Thomas Anderson is the only returning nominee.) Or that Tom Hanks — Tom Hanks — was left off the Best Actor list, possibly in favor of Daniel Kaluuya’s incredible turn in the sharp, satirical horror movie, Get Out? “What’s the opposite of the Sunken Place?” tweeted a joyful Peele shortly after the announcements. (“Wakanda,” came a clever reply, a nod to the upcoming Black Panther, also starring Kaluuya.)
Let’s face it: In our real world — you know, everywhere outside of Hollywood — the last year has been a fairly disheartening stretch of time for women, minorities, and progressive ideas in general. So isn’t it marvelous that Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water — a film he’s described as “a fairy tale for troubled times” — leads the pack with 13 nominations? Or that female-driven films Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Shape of Water, and The Post are at the forefront of the Best Picture race? (Patty Jenkins will have to make do with Wonder Woman’s boast of being the highest grossing live-action film ever directed by a woman.) Or that records of minority inclusion — across the board, in every category — are casually being smashed? (Roman J. Israel, Esq.’s Denzel Washington broke his own mark for most nominations by an AfricanAmerican actor with his eighth.) Is it a coincidence that several other Best Picture nominees — Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, and The Post — are about never surrendering even when things seem at their most bleak? Or that the ultimate message of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is that compassion ultimately triumphs over ignorance, anger, prejudice, and violence? Now all we have to do is wait for the world to catch up.