Merit Matters in Oscar Nominations
Around this time every year, movie lovers come together during the awards circuit to hopefully see their favorite films get nominated for the grand prize, the Academy Awards. Most years, in the aftermath of nomination announcements, the common arguments have always been something along the lines of “X actor got robbed for Y movie.” That argument will always take on different shapes and forms, but in recent years, many fans are quick to accuse the Academy of Arts and Sciences of favoring Caucasian actors and filmmakers. I don’t see the Academy as an institution that thinks this way; I see them as a body that hopes to simply award the actors and filmmakers that are the best in their craft.
In 2016, movie fans went so far as to start the “#OscarsSoWhite” trend on social media after that year’s nominations were revealed. This was mainly due to the fact that out of 20 acting nominees, not a single one of them was a person of color. But in that year, when you look at the other major film ceremonies – specifically the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Awards, there isn’t that much a difference between nominees, yet those ceremonies didn’t receive the same criticism that the Oscars did. Both of those ceremonies had 20-plus nominees for actors and actresses in film, and both only had one or two colored actors nominated in each ceremony.
So out of 70 total possible nominees, only three of them were people of color. This shouldn’t be seen as the awards circuit favoring Caucasian actors, but rather favoring those who are simply giving the best performances, regardless of race or gender. At the 2017 Oscars, out of the 20 acting nominees, seven were people of color, including at least one in each category. In both the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, a person of color won as well. These winners, Mahershala Ali and Viola Davis, were both front runners to win their respective awards. I can argue that they both gave the best performances in the group of nominees that they were a part of, rather than being given the award simply due to their race.
This trend seems as if it will continue so far, as the 2018 Oscar nominations were announced this past week. The acting categories contained a handful of nominees of color, but the real conversation on the topic has shifted to the filmmaking side. For their respective films, Guillermo Del Toro, Greta Gerwig, and Jordan Peele, are all nominated for Best Director, Original Screenplay, and Picture. In 90 years, Gerwig is only the fifth woman to be nominated for Best Director, and Peele is only the fifth African-American man to be nominated in that category as well. These filmmakers are often deemed as “outsiders” in the world of film, and it’s important to note that their nominations are due to the fact that the films they’ve made (The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, and Get Out) are among some of the best of the year.
It can often be difficult to distinguish the artist from their work, but for awards ceremonies such as the Oscars, this must be done. The Oscars, when all is said and done, is film’s biggest talent show, and there’s a reason why each award begins with the word “Best.” When it comes to awards consideration, film, as well as actors and actresses, should be judged solely by their work in the potentially-nominated films. All other attributes about them shouldn’t sway the nominations process.