The 2020 Oscar nominations show the Academy Awards is still a white man’s game

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Oscar Statue at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on February 23, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.

Rodin Eckenroth

Four years after it introduced major changes to its voting and recruitment rules, the organization behind the Academy Awards still has a diversity problem.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2016 set a goal of doubling the number of diverse members by 2020 following outrage over a lack of Oscar nominees who were female or people of color.

While the group has made significant strides, this year’s list of Oscar nods shows that issues of representation persist — a point that actress Issa Rae underscored while announcing the nominees for best director, commenting, “Congratulations to those men.”

Only two of the 20 actors and actresses nominated were people of color and no female director was nominated this year. Of the nine films nominated for best picture, only the South Korean movie “Parasite” featured a predominantly nonwhite cast and only one, “Little Women,” was centered around numerous female characters.

Notable snubs for the 2020 ceremony, which will take place on Feb. 9, include Greta Gerwig in the directing category, Jennifer Lopez and Awkwafina in the acting categories, as well as films such as “Dolemite is my Name,” “The Farewell,” “Us,” “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Queen and Slim,” which were absent from the ballot altogether.

In a year that had an impressive number of diverse creators and actors, many in the industry pointed out that it’s puzzling that so few received nods for their work.

Hollywood has made progress, although it’s not quite as fast as industry watchers such as Stacy Smith, professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, would like.

“There are signs of remarkable progress behind the camera,” she said. “But, I think the [Academy Award] nominations really represent major steps backward when the rest of the industry is working diligently to move in the direction that reflects the audience.”

As women such as Patty Jenkins (“Wonder Woman”), Anna Boden (co-director of “Captain Marvel”), Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), Ava DuVernay (“A Wrinkle In Time”), Jennifer Lee (co-directed “Frozen”) and Elizabeth Banks (“Pitch Perfect 2″) prove that female directors can make good films that garner big bucks at the box office, more women are getting a chance to shine in top roles.

Currently, five of the top 10 most anticipated films of the year, including “Wonder Woman 1984” and a remake of Disney’s “Mulan,” are directed by women and star women.

Meanwhile, celebrities including J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), Tessa Thompson (“Creed II”), Bryce Dallas Howard (“Jurassic Park: The Lost World”), Reese Witherspoon (“Big Little Lies”) and Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) have pledged their commitment to working with more female directors on feature films.

Despite this growth in representation, female directors are still getting left off the Oscar ballot even when they direct Academy-worthy films. A number of female directors could have snagged a nomination this year: Gerwig, whose “Little Women” received six nods, was a top contender heading into the nominations.

Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Lorene Scarfaria (“Hustlers”) and Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) also could have found themselves on the ballot. Heller was also snubbed in 2019 when “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” failed to garner a directing nomination.

Awkwafina accepts the award for BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE – MUSICAL OR COMEDY for “The Farewell” onstage during the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 5, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.

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Several complex factors have contributed to the lack of diversity at the Academy Awards, but, perhaps, one of the most important is the fact that there just aren’t that many women or people of color who get to choose the nominees.

The Academy has made progress in its overall makeup. As of 2019, its membership is now 32% female and 16% people of color, up from 25% and 8%, respectively, in 2015, the Academy told CNBC.

The organization did not disclose the total number of members but did say that the acting branch is the largest of its branches. According to The New York Times, the Academy has around 9,000 members.

Additionally, while the Academy provides an overall breakdown of its membership, it does not share the gender, racial or ethnic breakdown of each branch, whether it be actors, directors or screenwriters, and it doesn’t share how many people are in each branch.

While the entire Academy will ultimately vote for who will take home the Oscar, only the branches decide who gets nominated for their own category. Meaning, for example, only the director’s branch votes for the best director nominees.

Greta Gerwig photographed on the red carpet of the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 05, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.

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In order to get into the directing branch and vote on the best director nomination, a director must have a minimum of two directing credits on theatrical films that are “of a caliber which, in the opinion of the executive committee, reflect the high standards of the Academy.” At least one of those films must have been released in the last 10 years.

A prospective inductee could also have been nominated for best director, best picture or best foreign language film, meaning they’d only have had to have released one film in order to be eligible.

The third way to get into the director’s branch is by achieving some sort of special distinction or outstanding contribution to the film industry as a director.

Only five women have ever been nominated for the best directing award, and only 13 female-directed films have been nominated for best picture.

Since 2016, the Academy has extended directorial branch membership to more than 100 women, according to its lists of annual inductees. It remains unclear what these additions have done to the male-to-female ratio of members. What is clear is that those additions have not resulted in more female directors earning nominations.

Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen and Saoirse Ronan star in “Little Women.”

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Recognition from the Academy can go a long way to bolster studio confidence in investing in female filmmakers. And diversity advocates say the industry could benefit financially from films that feature a wide array of viewpoints.

Since 2007, there have been 57 individual female directors. Only 11 of those women were nonwhite.

For comparison, there have been 1,391 male directors during that 13-year period.

Much of the problem is that few female directors are given the opportunity to direct a second film. From 2007 to 2018 only 13% of female directors directed a second film, according to the Annenberg Institute. And only 2.2% directed a third.

For comparison, 21% of male directors directed a second film during that time period and 13.1% directed three.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t demand for more diverse films. Jon Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians,” based on the best-selling book of the same name, smashed records at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy from a major Hollywood studio in a decade.

“Black Panther,” the superhero flick which had a predominantly African American cast, garnered more than $1.34 billion at the global box office during its run in 2018.

Its director, Ryan Coogler, was the second black director to direct a film that has crossed the billion-dollar mark and now holds the title for highest-grossing film by a black director. F. Gary Gray was the first black director to reach that distinction with “The Fate of the Furious” in 2017.

“Do we need to make more movies with diverse movie stars as well as directors? The answer is yes,” said Rolando Rodriguez, CEO of theater chain Marcus Theaters. “There’s no question these movies do extremely well.”

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