It’s been a few days since the 2015 Academy Awards, and you may remember that when the nominations came out, after people stopped saying ‘where’s The Lego Movie?’, they started saying ‘this is the whitest year in Oscar history since 1998!’ Host Neil Patrick Harris even made a joke about it. That is true. I can’t argue against that, because it’s a fact that all twenty actors that are nominated this year were white, as well as four of the five directors, and most of the nominees in the other categories. It’s not just that. Outside of the actress and supporting actress categories, there is a distinct lack of women nominated this year. None of the directors, screenwriters, composers or cinematographers are female, and very few of the other categories have chromosomal diversity. The only exception is Costume Design because, you know, that’s girl stuff.
Two of the ‘snubs’ that had the most coverage (other than black people and women) are David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay, both for the film Selma. A lot of people are saying that both of them ‘should’ have been nominated, but is that really the case? Let’s look at these two categories, starting with Best Actor. I don’t think anybody can say that Michael Keaton or Eddie Redmayne didn’t deserve their nominations, for Birdman and The Theory of Everything respectively, so that leaves three slots. While I personally had a lot of problems with American Sniper, it has been incredibly well received in America, both critically and financially, so it’s no surprise that American awards voters would choose Bradley Cooper. I would argue that Steve Carell should have been in the Supporting Actor category, but he definitely deserved to be nominated. So that leaves one slot. Benedict Cumberbatch was very good in The Imitation Game, but an argument could be made against his nomination. So perhaps Oyelowo did deserve to be in there?
Wait a second. What about Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler? He was brilliant, and a lot of people, myself included think he deserves to be there. And what about Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner? He won Best Actor at Cannes, as well as a handful of other awards, and he was barely in the conversation! And how about Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Joaquin Phoenix for Inherent Vice, Oscar Isaac for A Most Violent Year, Chadwick Boseman in Get On Up, Bill Murray in St. Vincent, or even Miles Teller in Whiplash? Suddenly you have nine actors who could have all been nominated, or were at least part of the conversation. So an argument could have been made for Oyelowo, but a bigger argument could have been made for other people, and I would say that at least two of the above list (Jake Gyllenhaal and Ralph Fiennes) should be in there before Oyelowo.
And there’s no reason to believe these actors are nominated because they’re white. Obviously some of the roles could and should have only been played by white actors. Stephen Hawking (Theory of Everything), Alan Turing (The Imitation Game), Chris Kyle (American Sniper) and John du Pont (Foxcatcher) were all white and male in real life, so you couldn’t have a black actor there. Michael Keaton in Birdman is such a meta role, that relies so heavily on real life comparisons to Keaton and his career, that there’s really nobody else that could have played that role. Would anybody really want to see historical inaccuracy for the sake of adding diversity? I’ve tackled this topic before, and I’m pretty sure just as many (if not more) people would have an issue with a black Stephen Hawking as with a white Martin Luther King, Jr.
Well then, what about Ava DuVernay? She’s black AND a woman, so if she turned up on the red carpet in a wheelchair with a Chinese lesbian lover the Academy would REALLY be kicking themselves. Once again, there are a few nominees that nobody can really argue with. Richard Linklater and Alejandro González Iñárritu were the odds on favourites for Boyhood and Birdman, so once again we’re left with three slots. I would definitely say that Wes Anderson deserved to be there for The Grand Budapest Hotel, because only he could have made that film the way he did. So we’re left with Bennett Miller, director of Foxcatcher, and Morten Tyldum, director of The Imitation game. These two are definitely the two nominees that could have potentially be replaced by Ava DuVernay.
Or replaced by Clint Eastwood for American Sniper. Or Damien Chazelle for Whiplash. Or James Marsh for The Theory of Everything. Or David Fincher for Gone Girl. They all made brilliant pieces of art… Oh wait, I forgot, they’re all white and male so aren’t part of the conversation, so no matter how well directed these other films are, DuVernay deserves the nomination more, right? And her snub was worse, right? For the sake of diversity, that might be the case. The thing is, when you’re talking subjectively about what the best performance or the best direction of the year was, diversity should have nothing to do with it.
Should David Oyelowo have been nominated instead of Benedict Cumberbatch, or Bradley Cooper? Probably. Should Ava DuVernay have been nominated instead of Morton Tyldum, or Bennett Miller? Possibly. Should either of them have been nominated because they’re black? Definitely not. Saying that somebody should have been nominated because they’re black or because they’re female completely undermines their work, and the work of all the people that did get nominated. I think everybody can agree that more diversity in the Oscar nominees would have be great, but wanting somebody to be nominated for anything other than the work they’ve done is wrong.
If it’s your opinion that David Oyelowo gave the best performance of the year, then focus on that. Spread the world, show your friends, get everybody you know to see his brilliant performance. If you thought Ava DuVernay was the best director this year, then do the same thing! The more you watch their films, and get more people to watch their films, the more work they’ll get, and the more chances they’re going to have to get nominated, or even win in the future.
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