Awards Season Fatigue

Let's pull together the many disparate threads of Oscars backlash.


It’s been five years since the #OscarsSoWhite campaign and yet the line-up for this year’s nominations is once again a homogenous playing field dominated, unsurprisingly, by white, male contenders. Only one of twenty actors nominated this year was a person of colour, whilst there was no recognition for any female directors from the Academy.

In 2016 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences pledged to double the number of diverse members by 2020 after an outrage over the lack of Oscar nominees who were female or POC, with names such as Spike Lee and Will Smith threatening to boycott the awards ceremony. Nevertheless, as 2020 makes its entrance these big promises seem to be filled with much smaller intentions.

Greta Gerwig was notably snubbed as Little Women was left out of the best picture category, bringing the total of female director nominations up to a grand zero across the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Baftas, and making Gerwig’s nomination for Lady Bird in 2018 the only nomination for a female director in the last decade. Amongst those overlooked were Melina Matsouka’s Queen and Slim, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell and Lorene Scafaira’s Hustlers.

Racial diversity didn’t fare much better. The British-Nigerian actress Cynthia Erivo picked up the only acting nomination for a person of colour, whilst the South Korean film Parasite was the only nomination featuring a predominantly non-white cast in the line-up. Despite Awkafina’s Golden Globe winning performance in The Farewell and Lupita Nyong’o’s thrilling dual characterisation in Us, neither actress was recognised. This of course will come as no surprise considering that out of 200 nominations for the best acting categories there have been 26 non-white nominations, with only seven winning, in the past ten years.

It is as if diversity was merely a fad for the Oscars; after Steve McQueen’s resounding success with 12 Years A Slave the industry seems to think that enough recognition has been given, the diversity problem is now solved. In an interview with the Guardian, McQueen commented that award ceremonies like the Baftas and the Oscars risk becoming ‘irrelevant, redundant and of no interest or importance unless they undergo reform to avoid a repeat of this year’s nominations.’

The crux of the problem lies in the make-up of the voting panel. As of 2020 only 32% of voters are women and only 16% are people of colour. It seems that the white boy centric line up is ultimately a reflection of those in power feeling threatened by recent pushes to hire more women and POC.

The marketing scene seems just as much to blame. Films made by white, male directors starring predominantly white, male casts have been splashed across billboards and buses, whilst films such as Blue Story only came into the wider public eye when it found itself at the centre of a gang violence controversy.

That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t a demand for more diverse films. Crazy Rich Asians smashed box office records, becoming the highest grossing romantic comedy from a major Hollywood studio in a decade. Meanwhile, the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther garnered $1.34 billion at the global box office during its 2018 run.

Women have also been at the forefront of cinema this decade, with films like Wonder Woman, Frozen, and Pitch Perfect all brought to life by female directors. Yet despite the billions of dollars worth of revenue these women have created, only five women have ever been nominated for best director and only 13 female-directed films have ever been nominated for best picture. 

So what can we look forward to in the years to come? Will there be a shift in the faces and films up for awards in 2021? A panel discussion at the Sundance Film Festival instigated the ‘4% challenge’, urging producers to make a commitment to working with female directors, especially women of colour, within the next 18 months. Meanwhile, a tweet from the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Robert Iger, gave hope for the future of female directors, claiming: ‘Many have contacted us about accepting the 4% challenge, but I’m proud to say that 40% of @DisneyStudios’ upcoming movie slate is being directed by women and we are striving for more!’

 Franklin Leonard and The Black List have also partnered with Latinx Organisations, The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Like the Black List, these three organisations work to create a list of the “most liked” screenplays centered around Latinx, Asian and LGBTQIA characters, experiences and narratives. 

Lashana Lynch will make history as the first ever female, and non-white, 007 in the upcoming Bond film No Time to Die, with screenplay from the hit TV-series Fleabag’s creator, Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Likewise, the Latinx community will get a much needed boost of representation this year with the film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights, whilst Steven Spielberg is due to release a new iteration of West Side Story, starring Tony Award winners David Alvarez and Ariana DeBose.

In response to this article there will no doubt be the people who cry, ‘Why does it always have to be about race and gender? Can’t we just focus on the merit of the film?’. The response to this is simple. It is always about race and gender, because Hollywood refuses to properly acknowledge its unconscious bias.

With all of the upcoming projects and initiatives being set in place, there is hope that 2020 will better reflect the diverse selection of stories and faces that Hollywood has to offer. There is no lack of talent out there. There is merely a lack of opportunity and recognition.

The scene of Hollywood is changing and, while it still has much to do, there has certainly been a shift for the better since 2010. I look forward to seeing what the next decade holds.