MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscars. ShockedShocked Awards Shows Don’t Do Better Than The Industry.

I support women directors and the fight to push the industry to embrace them moving forward. I have argued for years that seeding the industry with at least two films a year directed by a woman at every major, as well as pushing for more women in crews. This seems to be taking place this year and it continues in the upcoming year. Progress, albeit slow progress.

That said, the only female director who ever had a legit shot at Globes/Academy this season is Greta Gerwig.

When Claudia Eller presents 7 strong pieces of direction and argues, “you can’t tell me that not one of those films rose to the level of a nomination,” it’s a fake argument. The work rising to the level and getting the actual award nominations are quite different standards. For everyone. Every season.

We need a reality check.

Does anyone really argue that any of these directorial efforts by female directors this year should be expected to displace Scorsese, Tarantino, Bong or Mendes?

So let’s discuss slot 5. Gerwig is right there with Phillips, Waititi, Almodovar, Mangold, Meirelles and Baumbach. Seven movies discussed as Best Picture candidates.

And what of the other 6 female directors on Eller’s List?

A lot of great work. But none of the films are legit candidates for Best Picture. Marielle Heller and A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is closest, but the film just hasn’t connected that way. Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers has become all about J-Lo. Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart was falsely tagged as being a flop this summer… in no small part by Eller-edited Variety. Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy is a beautiful piece of art… but it just doesn’t have the traction (or critics awards) that it needs to rise to awards nights. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, which is deeply loved by many critics and had a high-profile summer run via A24, only got to $18 million domestic, which doesn’t disqualify it, but does speak to its limitations. And Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet did pretty strong business, but 66 on Metacritic puts it around the same place as Judy.

Make no mistake, I prefer some of these films and filmmakers to the seven that I am suggesting are more likely candidates for Slot 5. And all seven of these women are professionals at a very high level.

And that really gets to the point. Awards are lovely. But the fight is about work. And all of these directors must work. If for no other reason, because I, and so many others, are looking forward to what every one of them does next.

Careers are complex. Lemmons has put her flag down firmly in TV and Wilde has a thriving acting career. But if any of these 7 haven’t made their next feature film by 2022, I will be shocked and disappointed.

I told people back in the summer that this would be an issue come awards time… that we had all better hope that Little Women was worthwhile, as there would be no other serious option.

Likewise, I was one of the first to note the lack of color being positioned for the award race this season. Just Mercy pushed into the season late. Netflix pushed their Dee Rees film (which seems more commercial than awards-y) into 2020. I knew the road back for Nate Parker was not going to be as easy as backers of his new film hoped. No Denzel, no Forrest, not much chance of Will Smith being in the game for his Ang Lee effort.

But here is the thing… these are not really award problems, even with a soft lean to racism and sexism amongst some older voters. It is an industry problem.

This thing where there are a half-dozen candidates in a specific category — like women directors or actors of color in dramas — going up against 40-plus films that are white-dominant, in front of and behind the camera, and you are working against mathematical odds every time.

Even if it was as few as 20 films by or led by women or people of color going into to the season with intent, going up against the 40 white-dominant films, the odds of a couple of these films NOT getting into the Top 9 flip and become positive.

Awards season is a reflection of the year in the industry. That is just the fact. And without profoundly changing the idea of what these awards are, that will never change.

The answer is to embrace more voices in the choices of what is made and who makes these films.

And if it means that we need to listen to people scream and kick with every award season “snub,” so be it. Not my favorite. Often hypocritical. But… whatever works for the good fight.

5 Responses to “The State of Oscars. ShockedShocked Awards Shows Don’t Do Better Than The Industry.”

  1. YancySkancy says:

    Good common sense. Any cinephile in any year can come up with a long list of names of people and films they prefer over the top awards contenders. Why anyone expects the consensus secret-ballot choices of a large voting group of industry professionals to match some notion of demographic fairness or any one person’s personal choices is beyond me. Of course it’s valid to bemoan the lack of nominations for women or POC in a given year, but, as you say, the problem is tied directly to industry opportunity (or rather the lack thereof), with the award contests being a symptom.

  2. Daniel H says:

    But the critique isn’t at the level of “what the Oscar [GG, NYFCC, etc.] vote for.” It’s at the level of what *all* the official taste makers think is awards-worthy to begin with and how that plays out. That’s gendered. The fact that people like Scorsese get nominated for middling work [GANGS OF NEW YORK], but Jane Campion only gets nominated for her out-and-out masterpiece [THE PIANO] and the fact that that that clearly happens because people overvalue “guy films” and male auteurs and undervalue “women’s films” and female auteurs, THAT’s the problem. Remember, the first woman to get an Oscar nomination for director was for making a guy-focused “tough minded” film [SEVEN BEAUTIES] and the first woman to win an Oscar for direction was doing the same [THE HURT LOCKER]. That isn’t incidental. Of course, there was a time when “women’s films” could get nominated and win [TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, OUT OF AFRICA], but they were always helmed by men. It’s very complicated, but the fact that YENTL wasn’t a major player in 1983 (how did THE DRESSER deserve a BP nomination that year and not YENTL?) and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN was called a masterpiece but then immediately shrugged off as “art house” is part of a larger zeitgeist where women artists and women’s stories (and especially women’s artists telling women’s stories) are at a disadvantage. You are right that this isn’t any one organization’s fault, but you’d think individual voters would try to push back against the sexist conventional wisdom that emerges every year during awards season.

  3. palmtree says:

    Farewell doing $18m, while yes is limited in scope, was definitely a huge win considering it never truly went wide. Closest it got was 891 screens. I say that not to contradict DP, whose point still stands, but just to say that it could easily be reframed as an indie hit considering its limited release strategy. Combine that with the fact that the only “star” in it was Awkwafina, it feels like quite an achievement.

  4. David Poland says:

    It is an indie hit. But indie hits aren’t naturally Oscar choices.

  5. palmtree says:

    DP, seriously? Not “naturally Oscar choices”?? I thought the complaint against the Oscars were that they rarely nominated audience favorites and nominated too heavily the indie films that were critics and film festival darlings. Am I missing something?

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