cover for caleb duke's article on 2020 oscar nominations

Oscar Nominations Are Here and I Have Thoughts

There are some critical absences this year. First off: Awkwafina.
January 18, 2020
8 mins read

The Academy revealed the 2020 Oscar nominations Jan. 13 and let’s just say, they were less than stellar. You can find a full list on the Academy’s website, but the gist of it is this: famous white person, famous cisgender man, famous white, cisgender man. No real surprises here. Only a bunch of snubs for great women and artists of color. “Joker” leads the pack with 11 nominations, including for best picture, best director and best actor in a leading role, while insanely good female-led and directed movies like “The Farewell” and “Booksmart” were completely shut out.

Now, I knew “Booksmart” probably wouldn’t get anything; even though Olivia Wilde had a brilliant directing debut and Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein were phenomenal in their roles, it’s only real shot was at best original screenplay. However, it was overlooked even for that. “The Farewell” is a different story. Many people thought that Lulu Wang was sure to nab a best original screenplay nomination for her semi-autobiographical masterpiece and maybe even a best director nod. And even more likely was her leading lady, Awkwafina, who recently became the first Asian American to win a best actress Golden Globe for the film. Her performance was my favorite of the year and still, nothing.

But this is not shocking. The only person of color to be nominated in an acting category this year was Cynthia Erivo for “Harriet.” While that was certainly well-deserved, the fact that she is the sole minority voice in a list of 20 is disturbingly reminiscent of 2015, when not a single person of color was nominated and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral. After that mess, the Academy implemented a program to try to expand their voting block to be more diverse, but they have certainly shown that they are still majorly white and male this year.

Other actors of color that were snubbed include Jennifer Lopez for her outstanding work as Ramona in “Hustlers,” Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx for “Just Mercy,” Eddie Murphy for “Dolemite Is My Name” and Lupita Nyong’o for “Us,” the remarkable sophomore piece from Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele, who also should have gotten some nominations (side note: who dared snub the “Us” score?). Even Beyoncé was left out of the best original song category for “Spirit” from “The Lion King.” She had been nominated for almost every single award leading up to the Oscars. “Spirit” is incredible. And, come on! It’s Beyoncé! This is outrageous.

Another outrage was the lack of women in the directing category. Only one woman has ever won the Oscar for best director and only five have ever been nominated. As I said before, Lulu Wang and Olivia Wilde were both ignored, as well as Lorene Scafaria, Melina Matsoukas, Marielle Heller and many more. Not even previous nominee Greta Gerwig was honored for “Little Women,” even though the film picked up many other nominations, including one for best picture. On the bright side, Gerwig will most likely see an Oscar win for best adapted screenplay, but that hardly makes up for the lack of female representation in the directing category. As Issa Rae put it, “Congratulations to those men” I guess.

There were also some odd snubs for white actors and producers as well. “Frozen II” did not receive a best animated feature film nomination, despite being the highest-grossing animated film of all time, receiving a nomination at almost every other award show (and a best original song nod at the Oscars), in addition to the fact that its predecessor “Frozen” won the Oscar a few years back and the fact that it was simply a great movie. I mean, it tells a story about the importance of making reparations for the atrocities of imperialism. I think that’s a lot more important than some popcorn film about why toys deserve independence. They’re inanimate objects, for crying out loud.

Other acting snubs include Taron Egerton for his amazing portrayal of Elton John in “Rocketman,” Adam Sandler’s big critical breakthrough for “Uncut Gems,” Robert De Niro’s big screen return in “The Irishman” and Nicole Kidman’s exploration into the mind of Gretchen Carlson in “Bombshell.”

There were a few pleasant surprises, however. I was thrilled to see Florence Pugh’s performance in “Little Women” earn her a best actress in a supporting role nomination. Watching Amy chase her sisters around in those homemade fairy wings was a delight. It was also a treat to see Tom Hanks nominated for channeling Fred Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” It is not likely that either will win, but it was nice to see them nominated, nonetheless.

Of course, the unpleasant surprises stung just as much as the pleasant ones soothed. I am quite bitter that Jennifer Lopez lost a spot in the actress in a supporting role category to Kathy Bates in “Richard Jewell.” Along those same lines, it was annoying to see Scarlett Johansson score two acting nominations. The big surprise was that she got one for “Jojo Rabbit,” but I didn’t even think she was very good in “Marriage Story.” I was also not too impressed by the choice to nominate Antonio Banderas for best actor in a leading role for “Pain and Glory” or “The Irishman” for best costume design. It was just a bunch of suits. Did you even see “Aladdin?”

Overall, the Oscar nominations this year were just very disappointing. So disappointing, in fact, that many people are choosing to boycott the awards altogether this year. It is embarrassing that the Academy can’t get their act together and finally recognize the achievements of women and people of color. As viewership dwindles in the long run and streaming takes over the world, I would not be surprised if the Oscars soon become a thing of the past. If they can’t keep up with the times, the Academy will be left behind. It’s just the truth.

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