January 15, 2020 at 12:21 pm EST | by John Paul King
Oscars 2020: And the loser is … diversity
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(Photo courtesy AMPAS)

If 2019’s record year of inclusion for LGBTQ and LGBTQ-themed nominees was a small step forward for the Academy Awards, then the nominations for Oscar 2020 are a giant leap back.

The year’s list of nominations contained few surprises, really. Buzzy films like “Joker,” “1917,” “Parasite,” and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” were expected to be among the frontrunners, as were most of the contenders in the performance and creative categories. What raises eyebrows is not the films and artists that were included but those that were left out.

LGBTQ film professionals are not alone in being shuffled aside. The “Oscars So White” hashtag of a few years back has resurfaced in the media conversation over the shortage of people of color among this year’s acting nominees. Also glaring is the absence of a single female name in the directing category, despite several of this year’s high-profile films having been helmed by women. While it should be acknowledged, with some satisfaction, that about a third of this year’s nominations went to women (62 in total, the highest number in Oscar history), it’s enough to make us wonder if the “Time’s Up” era is over and forgotten in Hollywood.

In retrospect, there was an inescapable irony evident in the Academy’s choice of Korean-American actor John Cho and actress of color Issa Rae to announce the nominees from the new, yet-to-be-opened Academy Museum in Los Angeles on Jan. 13. Indeed, it became obvious before the announcements were even over after the pair read off the nominees in the Best Director category, Rae quipped, “Congratulations to all those men.”

Here’s a breakdown of what DID get nominated:

Of the 20 acting nominees, none identify as LGBTQ, although two (Margot Robbie, Best Supporting Actress for “Bombshell,” and Antonio Banderas, Best Actor for “Pain and Glory”) portray LGBTQ characters.

Only one acting nominee – Cynthia Erivo, nominated for her starring role in the film “Harriet” – is African American. 

Of the nine Best Picture nominees, only one (Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”) was directed by a woman. The majority of the nominated films are dominated by masculine themes and characters, with only “Little Women,” “Marriage Story,” and “Parasite” offering significant female presence among their central cast.

In the two screenplay categories, only two women were represented, Gerwig (for “Little Women”) and Krysty Wilson-Cairns for co-writing “1917” with director Sam Mendes. 

Openly LGBTQ filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory,” besides its Best Actor nod, scored a nomination as Best International Feature.

The Elton John biopic “Rocketman” picked up a nomination for John and longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin in the Best Original Song category, for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again.”

As for the omissions, space only permits a partial list:

Notably left out of the final cut were Latina actress Jennifer Lopez, who was widely expected to score a nod for her performance in “Hustlers.” 

Recent Golden Globe winner Awkwafina, the Phillipina-American rapper-turned-actress who starred in Lulu Wang’s acclaimed mixed-language film, “The Farewell,” was shut out of the Best Actress category, and the movie itself failed to score a slot in the Best International Feature category. 

Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o failed to garner a nomination for her strong performance in Jordan Peele’s “Us.”

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” nominated as both Best Picture and Best International Feature, failed to earn nods for any of its Korean cast, including Song Kang Ho, who was thought a likely contender for Best Supporting Actor.

Actor Jamie Foxx, another favorite for his supporting performance in “Just Mercy,” was omitted in that category.

Besides the snub for Gerwig in the director category, strong female contenders Wang (“The Farewell”), Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”) and Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) were all shut out.

Beyoncé, considered a shoo-in for a Best Original Song nod with “Spirit” from Disney’s remake of “The Lion King,” was overlooked.

Eddie Murphy received no nominations in any category for his well-received Netflix film, “My Name is Dolemite,” nor did former Oscar-winner Ruth Carter for its costume design.

Perhaps the most high-profile omission is the lack of recognition for “Rocketman” which failed to earn nominations for Best Picture or for its star, Taron Egerton, as Best Actor – despite both having been heavy favorites in those categories. 

It might be easy enough to shrug this all off under the assumption that the nominations are simply an accurate reflection of the number of women, people of color, and LGBTQ artists among the contenders under consideration. While, regrettably, this has is as true as it has always been, a quick look at the number of strong contenders who were passed over is enough to show that the Academy had a diverse array of deserving talent among its potential nominees – and it chose, in almost every case, to pass them over.

Activist April Reign, who created #OscarsSoWhite in 2015, pointed up this fact while talking with The Hollywood Reporter after Monday’s announcements. “In the past, the pushback against #OscarsSoWhite was, ‘There just weren’t enough performances to nominate.’ Well, that’s not the case this year,” she said. “There was a wealth of talent – and not just of black performers but of various marginalized communities – that was overlooked. And it’s really unfortunate. I’m interested in what Hollywood and the Academy are going to do to make the entertainment industry reflect those that support it.”

As an almost eerie counterpoint to the Academy’s lack of inclusion, Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” which received 11 total nods, was the most-nominated film of the year. The first comic book film ever to lead the race in nominations, its portrayal of the iconic “Batman” villain has drawn criticism from some for glamorizing “incel” culture – an overwhelmingly white phenomenon.

Anyone who follows the Oscars knows that the nominations are determined by Academy members voting in their own categories, while the final winners in all categories are chosen by votes from the entire Academy membership. It only takes a small amount of reflection to recognize the troubling implications in the fact that, in spite of a well-publicized effort by the Academy to diversify its membership in the wake of former controversies, this year’s list of nominees looks like a throwback to the very white, very straight, and very male Hollywood of half a century ago.

As previously announced, the Academy has chosen for the second year in a row to forego a designated host when the 92nd Academy Awards are presented on February. Given last year’s Kevin Hart debacle, it was probably a wise decision.

This year’s ceremony is already assured of all the controversy it can handle.

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