Without a doubt, when the ceremony for the 89th Academy Awards is broadcast on Feb. 29, it will look much different than last year’s show. For one thing, mild-mannered Jimmy Kimmel will serve as host for the first time, although some of the winners will still undoubtedly choose to follow in Meryl Streep’s footsteps and make political statements.
For another, there will be a definite shift away from the male-centered dramas that dominated last year’s Best Picture category. In fact, the most interesting and hotly contested categories may be for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
And most importantly, there will almost definitely be several African Americans among the nominees for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.
On the other hand, while the Academy has made some baby steps toward diversity, there is still a long way to go. Asian Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented across all categories, as are openly LGBT artists. Women are still underrepresented in the directing category.
In fact, many of the movies generating Oscar buzz this year would not be eligible for consideration for key awards offered by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In December, BAFTA announced new diversity standards that provide a shared framework for measuring diversity so that the industry can track progress over time and can adopt a shared language for understanding diversity.
According to the BAFTA press release, “beginning in 2019, the Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer categories will adhere to the diversity standards set out by the British Film Institute. That means productions will need to demonstrate that they have worked to increase the representation of under-represented groups in two of the four following areas: on-screen representation, themes and narratives; project leadership and creative practitioners; industry access and opportunities; and opportunities for diversity in audience development.”
In addition, membership in the British Academy will no longer be dependent on a recommendation from a current member. This move is expected to further diversify BAFTA membership, which has already shown significant change.
As for Hollywood, 2016 did see an explosion of excellent Oscar-caliber movies that focused on the African-American experience, some of which were also helmed by black directors. These included “Hidden Figures,” “Moonlight,” “Fences,” “Loving,” “The Fits,” “The Birth of a Nation,” “The Queen of Katwe,” “Southside With You” and the outstanding documentaries “13th,” “O.J.: Made in America” and “I Am Not Your Negro.”
Unfortunately, despite this cluster, Oscar is still pretty white, male and straight.
Nonetheless, there are some great movies to celebrate in this year’s race. Here are some of the names to look for when the nominees are announced next Tuesday morning:
“Moonlight,” the groundbreaking movie about a gay, African-American youth has already won several major awards, including several honors from the African-American Film Critics Association and the Black Film Critic Circles Award. Look for nominations for writer and director Barry Jenkins, supporting actor Mahershala Ali, supporting actress Naomie Harris and cinematographer James Laxton.
While “La La Land” swept the Golden Globes, winning a historic seven awards, it will face a tougher challenge at the Oscars, since the Academy does not have a separate category for musical or comedy. Nominations can be expected for director Chazelle, stars Stone and Gosling, and the musical team of Hurwitz, Paul and Pasek. Choreographer Mandy Moore will sadly go unrecognized for her stunning work in the opening number “Another Day” since there is no choreography Oscar.
“Manchester by the Sea,” “Fences” and “Loving” deserve nominations across the board, and “Hell or High Water” is also considered a major contender in several categories.
In addition to Stone and Negga (“Loving”), other top contenders for nominations in the sizzling Best Actress category include Viola Davis (“Fences”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”) and Amy Adams (“Arrival”). Some intriguing long shots include Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), Annette Benning (“20th Century Women) and Taraji P. Henson (“Hidden Figures”).
Rounding out the expanded Best Picture category, look for “Lion,” “Jackie,” “Hidden Figures” and “Arrival,” with such long shots as “Silence,” “Eye in the Sky,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “The Lobster.”
While you’re waiting for Tuesday’s announcements, be sure to check out some of this year’s Oscar contenders on the big screen. No matter how good your home entertainment system, it won’t do full justice to “Hidden Figures,” “Jackie” or “Arrival.”