A lack of diversity was glaringly apparent in this year’s Oscar nominations, writes Matt Mueller.
For the second year running, no non-white actors were nominated in the performance categories and films that had trundled through awards season as strong contenders were either overlooked in the major categories or ignored entirely.
Creed’s talented team of lead Michael B Jordan and writer-director Ryan Coogler will have to cheer on Sylvester Stallone from the sidelines after he received a nostalgic best supporting actor nod for his latest turn as Rocky Balboa, while Straight Outta Compton - an early best picture contender - will be represented on Oscar night by its (white) screenwriting duo, despite the film’s script being arguably the creakiest element of Universal Pictures’ summer hit.
As for Netflix, which has harboured ambitions all year long of finally receiving a warm industry embrace for its great Oscar hope Beasts Of No Nation, the streaming giant will again have to content itself with duking it out for best documentary with What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter On Fire after Cary Joji Fukunaga’s drama was blanked.
Unlike their Bafta counterparts, Oscar voters even ignored Idris Elba for his searing turn as Commandant, while co-star Abraham Attah, the film’s young protagonist who in my book gave one of the standout performances of the year, was never a factor.
Hollywood anti-Netflix bias could have counted against Beasts; convincing voters to watch an unflinchingly bleak portrait of one boy’s journey to becoming a murderous child soldier may have also proved a factor. But The Revenant didn’t encounter similar problems despite containing its own share of horrific, hard-to-watch sequences (the bear mauling surpasses anything in Beasts).
Social-media firestorms notwithstanding, pointing the finger of blame at Oscar voters for their closed-mindedness isn’t entirely fair. When David Oyelowo was passed over for Selma, that felt like an outright snub (not helped by a ham-fisted awards campaign), but two years ago, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave secured nine nominations and three awards, including best picture. If a film or performance strikes a chord, it will get the vote.
This year, though, the opportunity was missed to honour several viable contenders: Elba, Coogler, Jordan, Will Smith in Concussion, Samuel L Jackson in The Hateful Eight, and Straight Outta Compton breakout star Jason Mitchell. And when the Academy has the capacity for 10 best film contenders and only chooses eight, this question of diversity becomes more pointed.
The other seemingly surefire contender to miss out on best picture was Todd Haynes’s Carol. You can point to Brokeback Mountain for evidence that prejudice wasn’t a factor in Carol’s snub but it is also true that no other film with the level of critical acclaim and critics’ group recognition that Carol enjoyed throughout awards season failed to make the cut.
The fact that the majority of Academy voters are Caucasian and male is merely indicative of the industry as a whole, where the exclusion behind the camera of black, Asian and female voices puts nomination snubs like this year’s in stark context.
If there were more films by directors from a mix of race, gender and sexual orientation - a better reflection of the make-up of society as a whole - there would be more chances for Oscar voters to honour them.
But it is also fair to expect an industry that views itself as a champion of social justice and forward thinking to hold itself to a higher standard when given the chance to shine a light on a diverse range of projects. When it doesn’t, we are all right to ask why not.
Matt Mueller is editor of Screen International