Are There Any Women Here? – Diversity in the 2020 Oscar Nominations

By Caelyn O’Reilly

It’s almost a cliché to write a thinkpiece about the lack of diversity in the latest set of Oscar nominations. Every year, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences congratulates the best films that English-speaking cis-het white men produced in the preceding year, and also some of the bad ones too. Oh, and they’ll also throw in a meagre handful of films made by women, people of color, etc. The slate of nominees for the upcoming 2020 Academy Awards is exceptionally representative of this feet-dragging approach to representation and inclusivity.

The list of prominent snubs from this year’s Oscars is arguably longer than the list of nominees, and there is a noticeable and depressing pattern to them. Films directed and anchored by women in the starring roles such as “The Farewell”, “Hustlers”, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, “Booksmart”, “Late Night” and “Knock Down the House” were ignored entirely. Films created and led by black people such as “Us”, “Dolemite is My Name” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” were similarly shut out.

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Cynthia Erivo in Harriet (2019)

There were some exceptions, as there always are. But in a year where the most nominated film is the Todd Phillips edgelord clown movie, it can feel like a concession more than genuine heartfelt praise. “Little Women” received six nominations but was notably shut out of the Best Director category along with every other woman in Hollywood. The Marielle Heller directed biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” received its only nomination for Tom Hanks’ performance.

“The list of prominent snubs from this year’s Oscars is arguably longer than the list of nominees, and there is a noticeable and depressing pattern to them. Films directed and anchored by women in the starring roles were ignored entirely… Films created and led by black people were similarly shut out.”

“Parasite”, despite being one of the most acclaimed films of 2019 and being nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and the newly renamed Best International Feature was ignored in the acting nominations. Cynthia Erivo is nominated for both Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Original Song, a feat previously achieved by Lady Gaga, but she is also one of the only black people in the entire list.

Even some of the few wins for diversity come with their own problems. The Best Animated Feature category is one of the most diverse in years, actively snubbing “Frozen 2”, a massive Disney blockbuster, in favor of less profitable 2-D and stop motion films “Klaus”, “I Lost my Body” and “Missing Link”. But this choice of snub does result in the only animated film co-directed by a woman that had a significant shot at the award this year being cut out.

““Joker” seems to view women as objects of derision or fetishization… “The Irishman” very intentionally cast women aside, and while not a flaw of the film in itself, it does begin to look suspicious when The Academy fawns over the film while ignoring stories told by women.”

Though at this point, such issues of diversity and representation at the Academy Awards feel like business as usual. While the continued marginalisation of films made by people who aren’t cis-het white men is something that we should never accept, and continue to speak out against, it does become tiring to feel the same outrage every year. What makes the 2020 rendition of this outrage all the more upsetting is that the three most prominently nominated films actively marginalise the few women they put on camera.

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Zazie Beetz in Joker (2019) © 2019 – Warner Bros. Pictures

“Joker” seems to view women as objects of derision or fetishization; they are cruel, abusive and worthy of death (Arthur’s mother), stuck-up fuddy duddies (the talk show guest) or idealised to the point where they spend most of the film as a subservient figment of the protagonist’s imagination. “The Irishman” very intentionally cast women aside, and while not a flaw of the film in itself, it does begin to look suspicious when The Academy fawns over the film while ignoring stories told by women. Likewise for the gut-wrenching, definitely (and rightly) going to win Best Picture, “1917”, a film that has a grand total of one woman in it.

“Congratulations to these men” indeed.

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