Diverse slate of nominees highlights annual Academy Awards

Awards season is here and it is pulsing with life. On Jan. 24, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominees for the 89th annual Academy Awards, or as everybody knows them, the Oscars. Known as the biggest night in Hollywood, this is a time when champagne sparkles and nerves rack. So far, the most acknowledged film of this year is the live-action musical La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Following the love story of an aspiring jazz musician and an actress, this film channels old Hollywood musicals such as Singing in the Rain and Top Hat, ending the decades-long taboo on original musicals in Hollywood. Being an absolute frontrunner for all major prizes, La La Land scored an astonishing 14 nominations, tying for the most in history with classics such as All About Eve and Titanic.

Following La La Land are the films Arrival and Moonlight each with eight nominations. Arrival is a dystopian sci-fi drama about an alien invasion. Its success is a trend in the industry, with sci-fi genre films such as Gravity and The Martian receiving more recognition at the Academy, not just for the purely technical awards, but also more valuable honors. Moonlight, another strong contender for the night’s most prestigious awards, is the heartfelt story of an African-American boy who is struggling with accepting his sexuality as well as dealing with injustices of a society at the peak of a drug crisis.

Moonlight has been praised for its unique cinematography as well as for exploring themes of homosexuality and family in unglamorized and unconventional fashions. Many critics predict this film will take home the Best Picture Oscar, making up for the devastating loss Brokeback Mountain, another LGBT movie, more than 10 years ago. Manchester by the Sea collected an impressive six nominations. Starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in a twisted family crisis, the film is another strong Best Picture contender. Both Williams and Affleck are nominated for their performances, with Affleck being the frontrunner for Best Actor. This is a major victory for Amazon Studios, who has now beaten its streaming competitor Netflix in the Oscars race.

Although Netflix received multiple nominations for its documentaries, including this year’s groundbreaking 13th, about mass incarceration in the United States, the internet giant failed to receive any recognition for its fiction film pieces. 2017 also marks the return of acclaimed actor and director Mel Gibson to the Oscars after a series of personal and professional misfortunes. Hacksaw Ridge, a historic piece about World War II starring Best Actor nominee Andrew Garfield, earned Gibson nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. However, the nominations of both Gibson and Affleck have been met with waves of protest due to both filmmakers’ past sexual allegations against women.

Denzel Washington, another prominent Oscar-winning actor, also produced and directed a Best Picture nominee—a film adaptation of August Wilson’s masterpiece play Fences, starring Washington himself and Viola Davis. Fences is the touching narrative of a family suffering from the pain of unfulfilled ambitions in times of racial segregation. Wilson, who finished the screenplay before his death in 2003, posthumously also received a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Hidden Figures is another prominent movie this year, which unfolds the stories of African-American experience. This film depicts the journey of three black women who help NASA to send the first American man into space.

An important historical piece, Hidden Figures is in contention for Best Picture as well as two other awards. The Oscars are celebrating a diverse array of nominees this year, seemingly in response to last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy. There will be many firsts at this year’s ceremony as well. Many women and people of color have been nominated in categories that have historically been predominantly white and male, such as Best Score, Best Documentary and Best Cinematography.

For the first time in history, people of color are nominated in all acting categories. Nominations for Best Supporting Actress include three black actresses—the first time people of color are a majority in any acting category. Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to receive three Oscar nominations. Although she is the front-runner for Best Supporting Actress, her nomination raised some eyebrows. Davis won a Tony Award for Best Actress for a role on Broadway and her screen time is almost the same as her partner Washington’s, which begs the question as to why Davis was nominated for a supporting role rather than for Best Actress.

Considering that the Best Actress category is predominantly white and the real competition is between French actress Isabelle Huppert for Elle and Emma Stone for La La Land, some viewers may see this as an act of symbolic racism—pushing a black woman aside for the sake of a white woman winning a more prestigious award. Meryl Streep broke her own record for most nominations for any actress or actor and became the first person to receive over 20 Oscar nominations. She was recognized for her role as the title character in Florence Foster Jenkins, playing an opera singer who is completely pitch deaf. While her performance was nothing short of brilliant, some are skeptical as to whether Streep’s nomination was a response to her passionate altercation with President Donald Trump. In response to Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes targeting Trump, he called Streep “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.”

The issue of diversity is also strongly present in the Best Animated picture category. The two frontrunners are Pixar’s Zootopia and Disney’s Moana. These two films deal with issues of feminism and cultural identity in a compelling manner while being shot with a beautiful diligence to detail. The biggest snub of the year is Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Critics praised the famous designer-turned-filmmaker’s childrens movie about a woman and her complicated past for its raw directing and script. Michael Shannon earned the film’s sole nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Amy Adams, who stars in both Animals and Arrival, was snubbed for the Best Actress category. Other notable snubs include Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train and Sing for Best Animated Feature.

This year’s Oscars are definitely worth watching. With a lot of great films and important stories being presented, it will be interesting to see how Hollywood acts under so much heat from the current political climate of the country. The ceremony will take place on Feb. 26 and will be hosted by comedian and talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel.

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