The Awardist: Black Panther, Roma lead important Oscar breakthroughs
On Feb. 24, winners will be crowned at the 91st Academy Awards. But before the red carpet is rolled out and envelopes are opened, Entertainment Weekly has inside intel on the 2019 nominees. Keep checking back at EW.com this week for spotlights on contenders in all the major categories.
This Oscar season is fast becoming one for the record books as Marvel Studios’ Black Panther becomes the first superhero movie to crack the Best Picture race. But the Wakandan king isn’t the only competitor to make history — a slew of other contenders signal (slow) shifts in a landscape overdue for fresh perspectives. This week, The Awardist looks at the Oscar nominees breaking new ground this year.
The Rise of Roma
Mexico’s Roma became the sixth film in Oscar history to land nominations in both the Best Picture and Best Foreign Language categories; if Roma wins the former category, it’ll be the first foreign-language movie to take home the coveted award. It’s a poetic journey for what has been called two-time Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón’s magnum opus. The director dove into his childhood memories to elevate the life of a Mexican housekeeper named Cleo, played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio. The first-time actress also became the first indigenous Mexican to be nominated for Best Actress. “I’m amazed at this nomination from the Academy Awards,” Aparicio tells EW. “I am so happy for Roma to receive [so] many nominations, and for my country.” Her costar Marina de Tavira, who plays Cleo’s erratic employer Sofía, also landed a surprise nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Roma’s 10 Oscar nominations arrive at a critical moment between U.S. and Mexico, given the dispute over building a wall at the nation’s southern border, which has kept the U.S. government partially shut down for a record number of days.
Cuarón has maintained that the film’s themes transcend borders. “Human experience is one and the same, and it’s so gratifying that a black-and-white film about life in Mexico is being celebrated around the world…we are living a great moment in cinema where diversity is embraced by audiences. This kind of visibility pushes our industry forward, and creates more opportunity for new voices and perspectives to emerge.”
Although Netflix has previously won Oscars in the documentary feature and short categories, Roma marks its first Best Picture Oscar nod, making it the second-ever film produced by a streaming service to enter the best picture race, following Amazon’s 2017 nod for Manchester by the Sea.
Diverse Members, Diverse Nominees
The #OscarsSoWhite backlash in 2016 led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to drastically evolve its stagnating membership of voters, which is largely dominated by older white men. The organization made changes to double its membership of minorities and women by 2020, and the Academy has ballooned to more than 9,000 members, of which some 7,900 are active voters.
The effect of that changing membership is why, after three decades of making powerful films, Spike Lee believes he landed his first directing Oscar nomination this year with BlacKkKlansman, which notched six nods overall. “This would have not happened if there was not the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite,” Lee tells EW of his nod for directing the true story of a black police detective infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. “It made the Academy understand that they had to diversify their membership.” A black filmmaker has yet to win the Best Director Oscar, and while Cuarón is the one to beat, Lee could make history if he receives that trophy.
Other filmmakers of color and their stories are being celebrated this year, including Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, with seven nominations, and Barry Jenkins’ thrice-nominated If Beale Street Could Talk, which follows a young black couple tragically torn apart by a false allegation. And while there is a noted lack of female filmmakers among the directing nominees, Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki became the first Arab woman to nab a Best Foreign Film nod for her heartbreaking drama Capernaum. (The film also earned her the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.) In the Animated Short category, Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Domee Shi, the first woman to direct an original short at Pixar, landed a nod for her film Bao.
At Long Last
Speaking of long-overdue recognition, Regina King, 48, earned her first Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for If Beale Street Could Talk, after three decades of roles across television and film. Her performance as a mother fighting for her daughter’s incarcerated fiancé won her the Golden Globe in January, and with a rousing speech, the actress cemented her status as the favorite in the race.
More than 30 years after his breakout role in 1987’s Withnail & I, 61-year-old character actor Richard E. Grant is another onscreen veteran landing his first Oscar nod in the Supporting Actor category for Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? In the indie film, Grant plays a charming, queer drifter who helps author Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) sell forged letters written in the voice of dead authors. “Something that’s small-scale and then suddenly has this magnifying glass and awards accruing around it — it’s beyond anything that any of us could possibly have imagined,” Grant tells EW.
And then there is Sam Elliott, who at age 74, with 50 years of acting under his belt, earned his first Oscar nomination, a Best Supporting Actor nod for A Star Is Born. “It’s actually shocking to me [that he had never been nominated],” A Star Is Born producer Lynette Howell Taylor tells EW, adding that “it’s really special he’s been nominated for this, and so deserving.” While Green Book’s Mahershala Ali leads the pack, Oscar voters could choose to reward Elliott’s estimable career.
But Glenn Close might be the likeliest long-beloved performer to hit the winner’s circle come Oscar night. The 71-year-old actress earned her seventh nomination this year for The Wife, and if she wins, it’ll be her first triumph, 36 years after her first nomination in 1983 for The World According to Garp. Close is one of the most nominated actresses without a win, but her illustrious body of work, paired with a Golden Globe win in January, make her the front-runner for the Best Actress accolade.
With superheroes smashing barriers, newcomers making bold debuts, and industry veterans seeking their first Academy Award, this year’s ceremony may come through with enough excitement worthy of an Oscar nod itself. (Or at least an Emmy!)
Additional reporting by Joey Nolfi, Marc Snetiker, and Tim Stack