Once upon a time in Hollywood, there was a slate of Oscar nominations populated by directors and performers of reasonably diverse ethnic backgrounds and genders. Alas, that was in 2018. And again in 2019. But the fairy tale did not come true again on Monday, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 2020 Academy Awards, which amounted to #Oscarsprettymuchwhiteandmale.
Female directors were shut out of the directing category despite the fact that women directed several critically acclaimed 2019 movies — including one that was nominated for best picture. There was only one person of color — actress Cynthia Erivo, who plays Harriet Tubman in “Harriet” — among the 20 nominees in acting categories. (Antonio Banderas, who was nominated for “Pain and Glory” is Spanish and white.)
The best that can be said for this year’s slate is that the roster of best director nominees was not completely white. The South Korean director Bong Joon Ho was nominated in that category for “Parasite.” And the category of best documentary feature was dominated by films directed by women.
In the five years since the start of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign — following a 2015 Oscar nomination slate that included not a single person of color in any of the four acting categories and only one in the directing categories — the academy has significantly diversified its overwhelmingly white male membership. Between that and an increase in overall number of films made by women and people of color, the Oscar nominations too began to diversify in 2017 and then again in 2018, when two of the five nominees for best actor were black, two of the best supporting actress nominees were black, and the best director category included a Latino man, a black man and a white woman (Greta Gerwig, who got shut out this year despite directing the well-reviewed “Little Women”). At the 2019 Oscars ceremony, seven black artists received awards, Asian filmmakers won best documentary and best animated short, and the Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron won for best director.
According to a recent study, there were five women among the directors of 2018’s top 100 films. Last year, that number rose to 12 women.
Ultimately, increases in the number of women and people of color directing films are more important than increases in diversity in the Oscar slate — which is always going to be something of an indecipherable crap shoot. This year, Jennifer Lopez was snubbed, but so was Adam Sandler. “Little Women” was nominated for an Oscar, but Gerwig herself wasn’t nominated. Inexplicable disconnects like that happen nearly every year with directors and best picture nominations.
No one wants a quota of black people or women on the Oscar slate — nor do we think that Martin Scorcese is less deserving of a nomination than Greta Gerwig just because he’s a man. Ultimately, if the Oscars are going to be more diverse, what’s needed is for the industry to be more diverse. And that is a long-term transformation that we hope is already underway and that shows clear results in the years ahead.