The 2020 Oscars Noms Aren’t Just White—They’re Boring: A Point/Counterpoint

John Cho and Issa Rae announce the 2020 Oscar nominations on January 13, 2020. (Photo credit: Screenshot from oscar.go.com)

Once again, the Oscars are snow white and it’s become so predictable that it’s boring. On January 13, the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tapped Issa Rae and John Cho—two representatives of Hollywood’s alleged investment in inclusion—to announce its nearly all white and all male nominee pool. While we hoped for different, the Academy delivered more of the same: Joker received 11 nominations, while The Irishman, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, and 1917 all received 10 nominations. Scarlett Johansson earned two Oscars nominations for Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit, respectively, and outside of Cynthia Erivo, the acting pool is entirely white.

Trotting out a Black woman and an Asian man to announce these nominations is the epitome of irony, but apparently, that was lost on the very Academy that patted itself on the back in 2017 and 2018 for nominating a more diverse pool and ushering in new voting members from underrepresented communities. Where are the LGBTQ actors, producers, screenwriters, and producers on their nominee list? Where are the people with disabilities? With these nominees, the Academy reminded us again that it’s not invested in the long game of inclusion; tokenizing has been and will continue being its approach, even as we continue fighting for better. Below, we’re breaking down what the Oscars did well and what its nominee pool reveals about Hollywood’s systemic culture of exclusion.

GladRags

Point: Parasite’s Bong Joon-ho was nominated for Best Director.

Bong Joon-ho was rightfully nominated for directing Parasite, a Korean film that earned the top prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Joon-ho’s nomination feels notable considering the continued whiteness of the Oscars, though it seems the #OscarsSoWhite campaign had minimal impact in 2020 because, once, again the Best Director category is still overwhelmingly white and male.

Counterpoint: White men are once again dominating the Best Director category.

The Academy didn’t nominate a single woman in the Best Director category, though there were a number of stunning films directed by women in 2019. Of course, there’s the Greta Gerwig-helmed Little Women, which has been met with great acclaim and enthusiasm from both critics and viewers and earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for the Academy to recognize Gerwig’s role as the film’s director. We also had Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, which earned Awkwafina a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, and Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, which were both snubbed in every category.

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Point: Cynthia Erivo received a Best Acting nomination for Harriet.

HARRIET - Official Trailer [HD] - In Theaters November 1st

Cynthia Erivo’s turn as Harriet Tubman is the best part about the Kasi Lemmons’s-helmed biopic. She brought a gravity to a role that required complexity and an understanding of Tubman beyond the depiction of her as a Moses driven by justice. Erivo nailed that, though she was partially stifled by a script that treated her character as a martyr instead of a three-dimensional human being. Despite the film being largely panned by critics, Erivo’s performance nearly guaranteed her an Oscar nomination; this time, the Academy didn’t disappoint. If Erivo wins an Oscar, she will be the second Black woman and the youngest person ever to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award.

Counterpoint: The Academy Awards again nominated a film about slavery and freedom.

The Oscars are notorious for nominating (and awarding) films that retrospectively examine the darkest periods in U.S. history for Black Americans: The Help, Lincoln, Green Book, and 12 Years a Slave all fit this category. And while the Academy sometimes breaks the mold by giving statues to Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, or Get Out, its voting body is still primarily swayed by art that recalls pain, trauma, and unspeakable violence. It’s telling that the Academy nominated Erivo—who has generated controversy about some anti-Black sentiments she expressed online—and completely snubbed Lupita Nyong’o, who turned out a killer dual performance in Jordan Peele’s Us. As Pose cocreator Steven Canals tweeted, “Where are leading Black women [nominated] for rom-coms, or horror, or a musical?” Our question is similar: Why are people from underrepresented communities only nominated for displaying our pain?

Why are people from underrepresented communities only nominated for displaying our pain?

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Point: Lupita Nyong’o is an icon regardless of nomination.

Lupita Nyong’o is a force in the acting world, amassing acclaim and an ever-growing fandom in roles ranging from Patsey in 2013’s 12 Years a Slave to Nakku in 2016’s Queen of Katwe and Nakia in 2018’s Black Panther. Regardless of the arbitrary decisions made by the Academy, she won’t be stopping anytime soon with forthcoming roles in HBO Max’s limited series Americanah and 355. We know she’s an incredible actor; does it really matter if the Academy acknowledges what we all know to be true?

Counterpoint: Nyong’o continues to be snubbed, despite her incredible talent.

It’s almost shocking that Nyong’o is so talented and yet so rarely recognized for her work. At that same though, we aren’t surprised: When is a dark-skinned Black woman actor awarded solely for her work and her talent? Though she played both Adelaide Wilson and Red in Peele’s striking film Us, she wasn’t nominated by the Academy (or by the Golden Globes, for the matter). As Nyong’o said herself, “We live in a world that rewards lighter skin over darker skin,” and her career is evidence of that fact. (Also worth noting? Nyong’o won her one and only Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave, continuing the trend of the Academy only valuing Black stories when they involve slavery or pain.)

Point: Antonio Banderas was nominated in the Best Actor category.

PAIN AND GLORY | Official Trailer HD (2019)

In 2019, we were gifted with Pain and Glory, Pedro Almodóvar’s film about Salvador Mallo, a queer, Spanish, aging director that’s partially based on Almodóvar himself. Antonio Banderas plays the director, who is overwhelmed with flashbacks about his past, a role that garnered him an Oscar nomination.

Counterpoint: There was a massive step backward in regards to queer films.

In 2019, the Oscars were as queer as they’d ever been with Roma and The Favourite both receiving 10 nominations. In a different world, that would mean that the Oscars would get even more queer in subsequent ceremonies, but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. There were many incredible queer films that deserved Oscar nominations, including the much-beloved Booksmart, the gorgeous Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and the controversial Bombshell, the latter of which had a surprising queer storyline. It’s crushing to see the Oscars only becoming straighter and increasingly whiter year after year.

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by Evette Dionne
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Evette Dionne is Bitch Media’s editor-in-chief. She’s all about Beyoncé, Black women, and dope TV shows and books. You can follow her on Twitter.

by Rachel Charlene Lewis
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Rachel Charlene Lewis is the Senior Editor at Bitch. She has written about culture, identity, and the internet for publications including i-D, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Glamour, Autostraddle, Ravishly, SELF, StyleCaster, The Frisky (RIP), The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. Her literary work, reviews, and interviews have been published in Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Normal School, Publisher’s Weekly, The Offing, and in several other magazines. She is on Twitter and Instagram, always.