The 90th Academy Awards will recognize the best films of 2017 in 24 categories. Movements such as #Oscars So White, Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo, have helped bring changes in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, allowing more female and minority voting members.
As a result, audiences and critics may see the Oscars distributed more evenly by race and gender this year.
VOA spoke with Giovanna Chesler, director of the Film and Video Studies Program at George Mason University, about the Oscar nominees making a difference.
A surprise breakthrough at the Oscars last year, when the indie African-American drama “Moonlight” upended the mainstream all-white musical “La La Land” in the Oscar category of Best Picture.
This trend in racial and gender inclusiveness is expected to continue this year, Chesler said.
“Considering the Oscars are a reflection of what could be possible and also the status of the industry, I think that we see that this year very well. We see films that are nominated that fit traditional categories and our expectations, like ‘The Post’ or ‘Dunkirk,’ but then we see films that are pushing boundaries like ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ and specifically ‘Get Out,’ they are been nominated and recognized. The nominees reflect the changes into the Academy’s memebership in recent years,” she said.
The GMU professor continued: “One of the things the Academy has done over the years is it’s increased its membership amongst more diverse actors, performers and screenwriters and are welcoming them into the voting population of the Academy’s 7,000 members.”
As a result, among this year’s Oscar nominees are African-American films such as Dee Rees’s “Mudbound” about a decorated African-American pilot returning from World War II into the segregated South.
“Mudbound” is being recognized in the categories of screenwriting, acting and cinematography. The film’s Rachel Morrison is also the first woman cinematographer to be nominated in 90 years, according to Chesler.
Another one is Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” a horror film with a comic edge about modern white supremacy.
” ‘Get Out,’ particularly, is redefining a genre, is redefining how you redress white supremacy. It is a genre film that is comedic but horror, we have never seen a film in the horror category nominated for Best Picture before,” Chesler said. “With ‘Get Out,’ there is also incredible momentum, same with ‘Black Panther,’ amongst its primary audience, this movie matters because we want to continue to see ourselves represented on screen.”
The #MeToo movement also is reflected among the nominees.
“Something cracked open with the #MeToo movement and the #Time’sUp movement that followed. Perhaps the films that are nominated somewhat reflect that awareness. About half of them feature female protagonists. Women in lead roles who are really influencing the direction of the film,” Chesler said.
One of them is actress, screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig behind the coming of age film “Lady Bird.”
The film about a mother daughter’s antagonistic, albeit loving, relationship has received five Oscar nominations.
While the dark satire “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” showcases Mildred, an angry mother played by Frances McDormand, who will stop at nothing to challenge the local police for not doing enough to catch her daughter’s killer.
This year we also see Oscar nominees dealing with same-sex and gender issues, such as the character drama “Call Me by Your Name,” about the passionate love between two young men in the early 1980s and the Chilean drama, “A Fantastic Woman,” about a transgender woman whose life is upended after her partner dies.
“We see a lot of risk taking happening in the nominees in the international categories and ‘A Fantastic Woman,’ is one of those films. The performance is exceptional and she will be the first trans person to present an award at the Academy Awards. We have another trans director nominated at the Academy Awards this year, Yance Ford, who’s nominated for her documentary ‘Strong Island,’ about violent death of her brother and the judicial system that let his killer go free,” George Mason’s Chesler said.
“Faces, Places,” by filmmaker Agnes Varda, is another documentary nominated for an Oscar. Varda, 89, one of the pioneers of the French New Wave movement in the 1950s, is the oldest Oscar nominee ever.
“It is a joyful film that looks at how we can create intimacy with total strangers. She is just so honest about what it means to be alive. What it means to feel time. What it means to feel young in an old body or old in an old body,” Chesler says.
Chesler adds it will take time before we see an equitable and open Hollywood. But with every passing year, there is hope that more women and minorities will be telling their stories for the large screen and receive equal representation at the Oscars.