As Oscars Approach, Academy Confronts Controversy

Following a year of members of the entertainment industry coming forward to reveal the patterns of sexual misconduct which have plagued Hollywood for decades, and an awards season of defiant responses to these revelations, the nominations for the 90th Academy Awards reflect what is expected to be the culmination of a long-overdue call for change. On Tuesday, January 23, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the complete 24-category list of films that are nominated for this year’s Academy Awards.
After 2016’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy and last year’s Best Picture false announcement mishap, this year’s list of nominees seems to respond to the sociopolitical movements that dominated recent Oscars ceremonies and most notably, last month’s Golden Globes ceremony. The Globes, which many use to predict both Oscar nominees and winners, was cloaked in black, as filmmakers and stars donned the color to show solidarity with the #TimesUp movement. Many used both the red carpet and the show as a platform to speak out against sexual harassment and assault, as well as to continue conversations about racial and gender inequality in Hollywood.
Director Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water received the most nominations of this year’s ceremony, thirteen, putting the film just one nomination shy of tying the record set by All About Eve (1950), Titanic (1997), and most recently La La Land (2016). The film received nominations in many of the major categories, including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Hawkins), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer), Best Director, and Best Cinematography.
Other films nominated for Best Picture that received many other nominations include director Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, and Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, and Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, with eight, seven, six, and six nominations respectively.
The Academy’s response to the controversies afflicting Hollywood over the course of the past year are perhaps most noticeable in a select few of the individual award categories. Despite winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama, James Franco was left off the Leading Actor list for The Disaster Artist amid sexual misconduct allegations that came to light after the airing of the Globes. Christopher Plummer was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his part in All the Money in the World. The part was originally intended for Kevin Spacey, who Plummer replaced after Spacey faced allegations of child molestation last fall.
One of the most poignant moments at the Globes ceremony occurred when, in the middle of a night defined by female empowerment, Natalie Portman announced the Best Director category by saying, “And here are the all-male nominees.” This will not be the case at the Oscars, as Greta Gerwig becomes only the fifth woman in Academy Award history to secure a Directing nomination for her film Lady Bird. If she wins, she will become the second woman in history to actually win the category, following in the footsteps of Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009). By the same token, Rachel Morrison becomes the first female cinematographer ever nominated for the Best Cinematography category.
Continuing last year’s trend of increased racial diversity, people of color received more representation in the nominations. The success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out shows promise for the film, which is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor in a Leading Role, as its release nearly a year ago indicates continued resonance among Academy voters. A Best Director win for Peele would make him the first black director to ever win in the category, and he is only the fifth to ever receive a nomination.
Despite The Shape of Water’s early lead, there are no real overwhelming favorites to win in any category. The pool of contenders is strong and diverse, which, in combination with what is expected to be a finale of sorts for 2017’s social reflection, this year’s Academy Awards show is sure to entertain.

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