The Oscar Nominations: A year of firsts and the most diverse awards yet?

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The 93rd Academy Awards are due to take place next month, and the diversity of the nominations has been a long time coming. But, after the Golden Globes controversy last month, where it was revealed that there was not a single black person in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (which chooses the award’s recipients), it is promising to see the presence of typically under-represented groups in the Oscar nominations. But, is this a time for celebration, or does the Academy still need to do more to diversify its awards?

David Fincher’s Mank, which explores the making of Citizen Kane, leads with 10 nominations, including Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actress for Amanda Seyfried—her first Academy Award nomination. However, given Mank’s relatively poor performance at the Globes (winning none of its 6 nominations), and its exclusion from the writing categories, it’s unlikely to see many, if any, of its nominations come to fruition. Unsurprisingly, Netflix has dominated the categories this year, with a total of 35 nominations for films it has produced or distributed, including The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, both in the running for Best Picture. Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is also nominated in this category, following controversy at the Globes, where it was labelled as a foreign language film and prohibited from a Best Picture nomination.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, featuring the great blues singer and her conflicting relationship with her management, is the only film to have both its leading actress and actor (Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman) nominated. Whilst this is Boseman’s first Oscar nomination, it is posthumous due to his death last August, and Davis has become the first African-American woman to receive two Best Actress nods.

Also, the Supporting Actor nominations feature a diverse array of artists, with 3 black actors nominated: Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami), Daniel Kaluuya (Judas and the Black Messiah), and Lakeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah). However, neither Kaluuya nor Stanfield have been nominated in the Leading Actor category, which raises the question, who does the Academy deem the male lead of the film?

This year is also historic due to its gender diversity. Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao have received nominations for Best Director and Best Picture, for Promising Young Woman and Nomadland respectively. Both women have also been nominated for their screenplays, which makes their chances of winning Best Picture far more likely. This is Fennell’s first venture into the world of feature directing and subsequently her first nomination in this category.

Zhao garnered critical acclaim for Nomadland, winning Best Director at the Globes. If she replicates this success at the Oscars, she will become the first Asian woman to win Best Director, and only the second woman to ever receive the award. Fennell and Zhao have made historic achievements this awards season and although their work should be applauded, we should also be asking why it has taken almost a century for two women to be nominated for Best Director in the same year. Nominations are all well and good, but if neither Zhao nor Fennell wins Best Director, the Academy will have a lot to answer for.

The achievements of this year’s nominees are impressive, but hopefully, there will be a time when it will not be ‘historic’ for a woman or a black person (or any currently under-represented group) to be considered by the Academy. The film industry, and arguably the world, still has a lot more work to do to ensure that this time comes sooner, rather than later.

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