The week before Monday's Oscar nominations was meant to be the most exciting phase of awards season yet: After a glittery Golden Globes ceremony on Jan. 5, many of the most important industry guilds and groups weighed in with their own nominations during the next two days, helping to clarify the Oscar race and winnow the list of contenders.
So why is your Carpetbagger columnist in no mood to celebrate?
Because that narrowing list has begun to exclude not just some of the most exciting performances and films of the season, but also many of the movies directed by women or featuring people of color. And though the academy, which was due to release its nominations today, has taken great pains to diversify itself since the years of #OscarsSoWhite, it's clear other awards bodies still have a lot of soul-searching to do, and that may require a total shift in what's considered weighty and worthy.
Just look at BAFTA, the British awards group that issued a list of nominations last Tuesday that failed to include even a single actor of color. British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo picked up a Screen Actors Guild nomination for "Harriet," but BAFTA snubbed her; ditto Lupita Nyong'o, so tremendous in "Us," as well as Awkwafina, who had just won a Golden Globe for her performance in "The Farewell."
That movie's scene-stealing grandma, Zhao Shuzhen, was left out of BAFTA's supporting-actress race, as was "Hustlers" star Jennifer Lopez, though BAFTA still found room in that category to nominate Margot Robbie for playing two different blondes. Other actors of color who turned in some of the most critically acclaimed work of the year, including Song Kang Ho and Cho Yeo Jeong from "Parasite" and Eddie Murphy from "Dolemite Is My Name," were also excluded.
Does BAFTA have a blind spot when it comes to race? This group has failed to ever nominate Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman, even though the two men have 13 Oscar nominations for acting and three Academy Award statuettes between them.
Over the last decade, all but one of the Oscar wins for actors of color have come in the supporting categories. Year after year, actors like Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Mo'Nique, and Nyong'o have been asked to pose with their Oscars alongside the white lead-acting winners, illustrating that even when these talented performers triumph, they're still seen as less than central.
Things aren't much better for female filmmakers. The Golden Globes, Directors Guild of America and BAFTA all nominated five men for the top directing prize, despite a sterling year for women behind the camera.
Those best-director races left out Greta Gerwig ("Little Women"), Lulu Wang ("The Farewell"), Lorene Scafaria ("Hustlers") and Céline Sciamma ("Portrait of a Lady on Fire"), among other worthy contenders. And while the DGA category for first-time filmmakers included exciting new voices like Mati Diop ("Atlantics"), Alma Har'el ("Honey Boy") and Melina Matsoukas ("Queen & Slim"), none of those women earned a nomination for the DGA's top feature-film trophy.
Instead, the guild nominated Martin Scorsese ("The Irishman"), Quentin Tarantino ("Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood"), Sam Mendes ("1917"), Bong Joon Ho ("Parasite") and Taika Waititi ("Jojo Rabbit"). Both BAFTA and the Golden Globes substituted "Joker" director Todd Phillips for Waititi, but no matter how you slice it, these are male-dominated movies, and nearly all of them feature a panoply of violent acts (with murders that include stabbings, hangings, shootings and death by flamethrower).
The Oscar trend lines are not encouraging. Despite saving a slot two years ago for Gerwig's "Lady Bird," the best-director category has become increasingly focused on audacious technical spectacle, the likes of which women are rarely allowed to make. So many of the female directors in contention this year had to tell their stories with slim budgets and striking visual economy, while the men often had big money, complicated shots and engorged running times at their disposal.
Alas, when it comes to awards voters, the most directing is often considered the best directing. And unless women are given more money and freedom to make their films, or voters come to understand that a performance-driven drama is every bit the directorial achievement of a whiz-bang war movie, female filmmakers may continue to be shut out.
Changing entrenched attitudes will require not just diverse membership rolls, but a willingness to investigate who and what we deem important. It won't be easy to celebrate the wins to come when it's clear that so much is still lost.