f the nominations for this year’s Oscars have demonstrated anything, it’s that progress is always slow – excruciatingly slow. It feels less like pushing a boulder up a hill, much more like trying to push a boulder up a cliff face. For every nomination worth celebrating – Black Panther for Best Picture! Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio for Best Actress! – there are brutal reminders that the film industry is so often all talk, zero action. The total lack of female directors recognised, in either the Best Director or the Best Picture categories, perhaps hurts the most here.
If you take into account the awards ceremony’s recent history, you’ll see the path that’s brought us here. The Academy, in response to 2015’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, responded a year later by expanding its membership, in an attempt to ensure that its diversity better reflected the world around us.
Of course, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much this has affected who’s won and who’s been nominated, but there has been progress, from Moonlight’s spectacular win in 2017 to Greta Gerwig’s Best Director nomination for Lady Bird in 2018.
In 2019, the trend continues, with the nominations suggesting a gulf between the more diverse choices of the Academy’s newer members, and the traditional choices we’ve come to expect from its more long-standing ones.
On the one hand, the impact of Black Panther’s seven nominations this year shouldn’t be understated. Certainly, Academy organisers will be overjoyed that, finally, a superhero film is up for Best Picture. Perhaps this might even boost TV ratings for the ceremony and ensure we never have to speak of the despised proposal for a Best Popular Film category ever again.
Given that it was Black Panther, and not any other superhero film, this nomination feels even more important. Indeed, the film had an impact far beyond its genre, celebrated not only as a piece of masterful storytelling and visual splendour, but as a full-blown cultural phenomenon.
It proves that the Oscars are capable of rewarding the blockbusters that are genuinely exceptional, without crowbarring them in as part of a desperate bid for viewers. It’s also promising to see BlacKkKlansman nominated in six categories, earning Spike Lee a long overdue nomination for Best Director.
Another takeaway from this year’s nominations is how well pictures not in the English language have fared outside of the constraints of Best Foreign Language Film. It’s a positive move in breaking down the concept that filmmaking is an entirely Hollywood-centric affair (with the occasional UK production thrown into the mix). With any luck, in the future, we’ll see the traditional notions of the “Oscar-bait movie” (Green Book, anyone?) fall away. Roma has tied with The Favourite, an English language film, albeit by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, for the most awards with 10 nominations.
The film has even beaten the odds and fared well in the acting categories: Marina de Tavira has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Yalitza Aparicio has been nominated for Best Actress, the latter up against the likes of Lady Gaga and Glenn Close. Roma is now in a strong position to win – and what a win that would be, as it would become the first foreign language film ever to win Best Picture.
It’s heartening to see such important strides being made, but it’s hard to celebrate in the face of so many disappointments. Women behind the camera are still being shut out of awards season. By this point, it’s just embarrassing. Despite all the talk over the past 12 months of the film industry’s commitment to change, the Academy has snubbed a string of high-profile and critically acclaimed works by women – all of them with the right credentials to be deemed awards-friendly.