I’ve taken a day or so to think about the Oscar nominations for our upcoming awards, specifically about the lack of people of color. As a white male, I know my voice is already heard too much in this arena but I’m hoping to use my expertise as a film aficionado to discuss an issue that plagues Hollywood.
There’s a few things to discuss first, before I get to the meat of it.
Ryan Coogler, director of Creed, is clearly missing from the Best Director pool. This is one of the strongest arguments I’ve seen, as I would’ve put him above both Adam McKay (The Big Short) and Tom McCarthy (Spotlight). Creed was a much better directed film.
Now I have to talk about Michael B. Jordan. A lot of people are saying that he’s missing from the Best Actor category. As someone who’s seen over 70 films this year, I can tell you with confidence that Michael B. Jordan didn’t deliver a performance in that league at all. The script just didn’t give him those moments. When I left Creed, it was Sylvester Stallone that delivered the best performance, which is why I’m glad he’s in the running (and even won the Golden Globe).
So, in an ideal world, both Stallone and Coogler would be in the running. Also the Academy can choose up to 10 Best Picture nominees and only chose 8 (they only chose 8 last year too, but 9 the two years before). I would’ve put Creed in that list for sure.
Another big missing piece for me was Benicio Del Toro for Best Supporting Actor. In general, Sicario is missing from most categories it deserves. While Ruffalo was good in Spotlight and Tom Hardy was fine in The Revenant, I think Benicio gave a better performance than both.
A movie that people keep bringing up is Straight Outta Compton. I loved it but in my list of movies, it’d likely end up at #13 or #14 at this point. I don’t think it was “robbed” of any big nominations. The fact that it’s getting nominated for Best Original Screenplay is notable because it was an all-white team of writers (similar to how the one white guy from Creed got nominated). I’m not sure why white writers were chosen to write that film, that’s a huge question I have.
I can’t speak too much about Beasts of No Nation but I’m not 100% certain it even qualifies for the Oscars due to its digital release on Netflix. Did it open in theaters concurrently?
Is anyone else notable missing? Not really. Which is the problem.
I think the problem is bigger than the Oscars. How can people of color get nominated for awards when there aren’t roles for them to fill? When I look at my list of the 70+ films I saw this year, like a handful had lead characters that were people of color. And out of that handful, Creed was the only one to really stand out as a superior movie. The Oscars are so white because all of the major releases feature white folk.
I’ve also noticed that that 90% of the time that a movie featuring a person of color does get recognized by the Oscars, it’s a story about them being a person of color. You see movies like Selma and 12 Years a Slave. The biggest thing I appreciated about Creed is that the story was about him as a person. It was about family and triumph. I can’t wait til we get to the point where The Martian could’ve put Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mark Whatney (played by Matt Damon now) instead of taking that sort of talent and making him a supporting character. Luckily Ejiofor is breaking the type a little bit as he was cast in the upcoming Marvel movie Doctor Strange as a character that isn’t traditionally a person of color.
Over on Netflix, we see Aziz Ansari on Master of None. There’s a fantastic episode that discusses the role of Indians on television, covering things like stereotypes and not being able to have two Indians for fear of making it “an Indian show.” It’s a great episode that can open up a bigger conversation about mainstream media. Why does a great actress like Constance Wu get niched into shows like Fresh Off the Boat? Every once in a while, we get a breakout like The Mindy Project but it’s rare.
We’re starting to see more shows about latinas on television but the networks pit them against each other, such as the new America Ferrera show Superstore going head-to-head with Jane the Virgin.
Anyways, I feel like I’m starting to ramble.
The direction we need to go in is one where more scripts feature strong people of color, that better represent the audience that is watching these films. We need to support screenwriters with great ideas. I’d love to see more movies with strong people of color that have struggles, triumphs, and identities that aren’t solely about them being a person of color (as we’re all made up of more than just that aspect of our identity). I can’t wait til we can see an ensemble cast of black actors and that movie isn’t immediately labeled as a “black movie.”
So the problem isn’t necessarily the Oscars (except for Creed which should’ve gotten a couple more nominations) but the problem is the absence of meaningful and three-dimensional roles for all people of color. The world has changed and grown since movies were invented yet the medium isn’t evolving at the same pace.
(Note: Again, I reiterate that I recognize that as a white cis male my opinion may not be weighted very heavily but I wrote this in an effort to act as an ally and hopefully I didn’t overstep my bounds in any aspect.)