Each year, I have a love- hate relationship with Oscar nomination morninsg. While I am always excited about my favorite actors, writers and directors I love to see nominated, I always fear the outrageous snubs each year provides. In the former category, I am cheering on Rosamund Pike, Wes Anderson, J.K. Simmons and Emma Stone. Unfortunately, many of the year’s nominations have left me fearing where the film industry is heading.

Having seen seven of the eight films nominated for Best Picture- “American Sniper”, “Birdman or (the Unexpected Value of Ignorance)”, “Boyhood”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Imitation Game”, “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash” – I feel comfortable commending the Academy for picking quality films to honor. (I did not see “American Sniper,” but I read the script online and it was subpar.)

That being said, practically ignoring any films that prominently feature the perspectives of non-Caucasian and women characters seems inherently wrong.

According to a recent study by the Los Angeles Times, the Academy is 93% white and 76% male, with an average age of 63 years. As such, all of the films nominated for Best Picture are solely about men, with women only appearing in supporting roles, save for maybe “Theory of Everything,” in which due to Stephen Hawking’s dehabilitating condition, he is required to rely on Jane Hawkins, his first wife, to essentially drive the narrative forward. All ten of the films nominated in Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay are written by men, even though, prior to nomination day, Gillian Flynn was the predicted winner of the latter category. Flynn had expertly adapted her own novel, “Gone Girl,” for the big screen. (It should be noted that David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” an enormous critical and commercial success, was nominated only for Rosamund Pike’s daring performance.)

Additionally, after last year’s “12 Years a Slave” triumphed, seemingly announcing a change in the Academy’s bias towards movies about nice white men (See: “The King’s Speech”), the Academy seems to be moving backwards in terms of progress: One of the most important, critically acclaimed films of the year, Ava Duvernay’s “Selma,” seemed to be on the fast-track to winning Best Picture.

Duvernay’s account of the police brutality suffered by participants in Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting marches through Selma, Ala. holds a particular significance considering the events earlier this year in Ferguson, MO. However, the film’s Oscar hopes dissipated when the film lost out on nominations in every category besides Best Picture and Best Original Song, suggesting little support within the Academy.

Rather than blaming these omissions on racial factors, many have pointed to the controversy surrounding the film’s portrayal of Lyndon B. Johnson, instead. The controversy concerns the film’s contention that President Johnson opposed the Selma voting marches in their early stages. Writing in the Washington Post, a former aide to Johnson wrote that “Selma was LBJ’s idea.” Duvernay responded via Twitter that the “[n]otion that Selma was LBJ’s idea is jaw dropping to the [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,] [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] and black citizens who made it so.” A considerable amount of other historians have weighed in on the issue as well with varying degrees of support and disapproval for the film.

Even if this controversy has any merit, it is baffling that Selma is the only historical film this year that has been attacked to such a degree: “The Imitation Game” attracted criticism for downplaying its protagonist’s homosexuality, but the film still earned eight Oscar nominations; “American Sniper” is said to sanctify sniper Chris Kyle, who wrote in his autobiography that he used to “whack” animals so hard that he broke his hand twice, but the film received six nominations and made almost 100 million dollars in its opening weekend. Astutely, Indiewire writer Sam Adams tweeted, “The Academy: Historical accuracy is important, unless your movie is about a white man killing Arabs.

So while I feel ecstatic that Academy voters were able to find room in their hearts (and on their ballots) for something like “Whiplash”, a wonderful independent film about a jazz drummer’s descent into near- insanity, I still wish they would be able to open their hearts to more “unconventional” choices, like “Selma,” “Gone Girl,” or the excellent “abortion rom-com” “Obvious Child”. Not doing so basically sends the outdated message to the film industry that films like these, ones that are difficult to watch and challenge our beliefs – ones that portray minority views and perspectives – are not important and should not be made. And that’s not a film industry that the world needs.

Abrams is a member of

the class of 2018.



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