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The 2022 Oscar Nominations: Privilege Takes the Trophy

Last year, it appeared that film and television awards like the Oscars were taking steps in the right direction. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who do the voting, announced that their female members had doubled, and their members of colour tripled. This was subsequently reflected in the winners. Chloé Zhao was the first woman of colour – and the second woman ever – to win Best Director. Yuh-jung Youn became the first Korean actor to win an Oscar (Best Actress). The Sound of Metal (2019) won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Film Editing and for Best Sound, for their astonishing ability to make an aural landscape accessible to both hearing and Deaf people. Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson were the first Black winners in Best Makeup and Hairstyling (and increasingly, H&MU artists in the industry are being required to train in styling black hair). The list goes on, including presenting in ASL, diverse nominees, and more female nominations than ever. In 2022, however, things have seemingly taken a turn for the worse.

Some of the Oscar Nominees 2022. Pic: Aljazeera

I know there is some argument that a win for a minority, LGBT+, or female filmmaker shouldn’t be separated from the others, lest it take away from the achievement in itself or come across as patronising. I disagree. I think recognising these achievements highlights how much further they had to strive to achieve this: how there were more hoops to jump through; how it isn’t set up for them to prosper. Listen to the acceptance speeches of winners who aren’t white, male, or cisgendered: “I can picture Black trans women standing up here, and Asian sisters and our Latina sisters and Indigenous women, and I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking, it will just be normal.” (Neal’s acceptance speech). So it was a real shame when I saw the 2022 nomination announcements. Only four non-white performers have been nominated in acting roles. Jane Campion is flying the flag for women as she sweeps up nominations, but is the only female nominee for Best Picture for The Power of the Dog (2021).

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some victories to be noted. To name a few, Ryusuke Hamaguchi is up for Best Director for road movie Drive My Car (2021), the third Asian filmmaker in as many years to be nominated in this category. CODA (2021) is the first film with a predominantly deaf cast to be up for Best Picture. Ariana DeBose and Kristen Stewart are both nominated for Best Actress for West Side Story (2021) and Spencer (2021) respectively, and refugee story Flee (2021) collected three nominations, all representing the queer community. But in 2022, it really shouldn’t be a case of, ‘there’s one queer actor in this category’, or, ‘there are a few nominations for black filmmakers across all nominees’. True diversity should mean there’s a fair shot for everybody, and it’s reflected not only in the nominations, but the winners too. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t start at awards night.

‘Belfast’, aka please stop shooting in black and white. Pic: The New Yorker

Now, this isn’t to say that the best films don’t deserve recognition. There were nominations that undoubtedly deserved to be there, such as Cruella (2021) for Costume – a terrible film, but fabulous production design – and House of Gucci (2021) for Makeup and Hairstyling. But this list of nominees proves more than ever that creating an ‘Oscar-grabbing’ film is a legitimate thing, ticking boxes without actually saying anything new. And some films simply don’t deserve to be there. There is more than one film nominated that is shot in black and white, which is not something that should be commended. The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) is up for Cinematography. Whilst the shot composition is good, you guessed it, it’s in black and white. Belfast (2021) is up for Best Original Screenplay, which it undoubtedly isn’t. Ansel Elgort hasn’t been nominated (thank God) but West Side Story (2021) is on several nomination lists. This in itself is fine, but it seems to be conveniently glossing over the 2019 sexual assault allegations Elgort received -at the time the woman being 17, the actor 20. He received a standing ovation at a screening of West Side Story soon after its release. Allegedly recasting Elgort would be difficult given they had already shot the film at great cost. This, to me, isn’t a good enough excuse. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on Spielberg, but putting a film on a pedestal such as the Oscars when nominators are fully aware of the accusations facing Elgort feels so, so wrong. What ever happened to believing the victim?

The point is, it’s not as though the diversity-lacking nominations list are objectively, undoubtedly, unquestionably THE best films to come out of the last year. If you want proof, read Samantha Bergeson’s IndieWire article ’30 Movies Rejected by the Oscars in 2022′. And even if they were, that’s another example of a fault in the system. For the most part, Oscar nominations are very high-budget features, and that type of funding is difficult to come across; it’s even more difficult to come across for non-white, LGBT+ or female filmmakers. As if getting to the position of director, actor, or any kind of technical operator wasn’t challenging enough when facing prejudice, the lack of funding makes telling minority’s stories even harder. Distribution companies want films that they can guarantee will do well at box office – hence Marvel and DC. Because they can’t guarantee the success of a story that goes against the grain, that defies how society is run, often it is granted less funding to begin with. This gives them less avenues to play with – say, in comparison with the swanky shots of James Bond’s latest instalments – and less ability for their film to become truly what they have envisioned. Hence, the Oscar nominations are skewed long before the inherent biases even come into play. If filmmakers get that far, the way Oscar nominations work is that directors are nominated by fellow directors, actors by actors, editors by editors etc. So if your pool of directors is made up almost entirely of white men, chances are they are going to nominate a director that has created a film that resonates with them – and so the cycle continues.

‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ aka PLEASE stop shooting in black and white. Pic: The Times

I’m not offering a solution to the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscars. Partly because I think the awards ceremonies are just a product of a flawed system, with only a certain amount of underrepresented filmmakers making very prolific films to choose from. The problem starts with the industry itself being horribly unrepresentative. It’s also classist – at £28k for a 2 year MA in Directing at NFTS, only £11k of which is covered by student loans, becoming a filmmaker is bloody expensive. It’s an elitist industry, and those selecting the Oscar nominations are a product of that privilege for the most part. Perhaps what we really need is to burn it down and start again. Stop putting the Oscars on such a pedestal, and create a new, esteemed set of awards for ALL films. The low-budget, the underrepresented, the experimental, the diverse. A kind of bohemian awards ceremony filled with all the bright and beautiful avenues the industry has to offer. A stage where children of all kinds can see themselves represented onstage. I’d watch that over another white man in a tux picking up the statue for Best Actor.

By Becca Brown