In 2017, the Academy Awards for Motion Pictures and Sciences decided that it was time heed calls for inclusion after nominating all-white acting pools in two consecutive years. Then Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs vowed to double the number of people of color and women voting members by 2020, and along the way, it seemed, nominated more people of color across categories. Denzel Washington, Dev Patel, Ruth Negga, and Octavia Spencer were nominated in acting categories, with Viola Davis and Mahershala Ali both winning Oscars for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. Moonlight stunningly won Best Picture (though a mixup at the podium kept the full impact of the moment from sinking in).
One year later, the Academy seemed to be continuing its commitment to diversity: Mary J. Blige earned two nominations for Mudbound and Octavia Spencer was nominated for The Shape of Water; Daniel Kaluuya and Denzel Washington were nominated in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category for Get Out and Roman J. Israel, Esq., respectively; and Jordan Peele and Guillermo Diaz took home statues for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director, respectively. And then, the Academy seemingly patted itself on the back for a job well done and decided inclusion was not worth the long-term investment.
So, here we are in 2020, with a nearly all-white nomination pool once again, with people of color, such as Cynthia Erivo, sprinkled in for good measure and a double down on whiteness as the status uo. What Bitch has learned over the past four years, as we’ve made a commitment to prioritizing inclusion, is that it’s a long, hard game. Inclusion isn’t something that magically happens overnight, and it’s not something that can be achieved in a single year or even four. It’s a sustained commitment to centering marginalized communities and even expanding the processes for finding and cultivating talent. For some odd reason, the Academy has decided that it’s too difficult to do this work over the long haul, and so, we’ve decided not to support them as an institution.
Instead, we’re presenting an alternative Oscars list—movies, actors, and directors who should’ve been nominated more or may never receive recognition from the Academy—but are significant to the communities we serve. There’s no telling what will happen with the Academy moving forward, but what we do know is that cinema isn’t just the scope of what this institution believes is important. Cinema means so much to so many different people, and we hope this list is reflective of that.
Lupita Nyong’o, Us
Lupita Nyong’o is already an Academy Award winner, but that doesn’t mean she’s any less deserving of additional nominations. Since winning for her breakout role in 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o has been incredibly selective about the roles she’s played—from voicing Maz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens to taking on the role of a spy and special forces bodyguard in Black Panther—and it seems that Us is the height of her powers as an actor. She portrays both Adelaide—a mother and wife who’s traveling to a Santa Cruz, California, vacation house with her family—and Red, her tether, who has been living in an underground bunker, mimicking everything she is doing above ground. Both of these characters have distinctive, distinguishing qualities, and Nyong’o brings them to life with equal intensity and brilliance.
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Boasting larger-than-life performances from big names like Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, and Christopher Plummer, Knives Out pulls off the ultimate balancing act with its star-studded cast. In comparison, Ana de Armas’s performance is subtle, but it anchors the film and brings it back down to earth. In an Instagram post, Curtis praised her costar’s take on the character Marta Cabrera, writing, “The entire movie [Knives Out] hangs on the slim but strong shoulders of @ana_d_armas. Her Marta grounds the film with true feeling and frustration and lets the rest of our real but helium buffoons float and bob and weave. She is the center of our doughnut. She is the oracle. She is everything.”
Song Kang-ho, Parasite
Korean audiences will likely already be familiar with the work of Song Kang-ho, who is considered one of South Korea’s most prolific actors. However, for American audiences, the experience of watching Song’s dynamic performance light up the big screen for the first time is a gift. While the entire cast’s chemistry is a rare treasure, it would be a mistake not to recognize Song’s once-in-a-lifetime role as the Kim family patriarch.
Constance Wu, Hustlers
Jennifer Lopez is billed as the star of Hustlers, but Constance Wu steals the show—time and again. As Destiny, a new stripper whose taken under Ramona’s (Jennifer Lopez) wing and becomes her partner in crime, Wu offers a quiet storm of a performance of a woman who’s desperate in the face of financial strain and is pushed to extreme measures to survive. It’s a performance worthy of recognition.
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name
Eddie Murphy has earned the right to be selective about the roles he accepts, but when he elects to be the lead in a dramatic film, there’s always a good reason. Netflix’s In Dolemite Is My Name, Murphy portrays Rudy Ray Moore, a discouraged artist who’s working in a record store and trying to break through as a comedian. When he gets his big break by repurposing jokes that he’s learned from his community’s unhoused population, Moore comes up against an entertainment industry that doesn’t understand his artistry. Murphy delivers a killer performance that’s equal parts humorous and vulnerable.
Lulu Wang, The Farewell
Lulu Wang, whose IRL story, told on This American Life, led to the creation of a movie version of her life, didn’t need to direct her own story. But The Farewell is beautiful because she chose to do so. She handles every element of this film well—Everything from the careful reactions of its characters to the nuances of balancing a Chinese American protagonist with mainland Chinese extended family. Could anyone but an Asian or Asian American director be trusted with a film as culturally specific as this one?
Bong Joon-ho, Parasite
Bong Joon-ho’s films defy genre. American audiences are likely familiar with Bong’s English-language debut Snowpiercer (2013) and Netflix’s Okja (2017), but his work incorporates elements of sci-fi, horror, comedy, and action genres. Under the helm of Bong, every aspect of Parasite is a feat, from its stellar performances to its cinematography depicting class divides to the painstakingly constructed Park house filled with custom-made furniture.
Greta Gerwig, Little Women
When Little Women was first announced, the internet collectively groaned; the 1868 novel has been adapted countless times into films, radio dramas, miniseries, and musicals. However, Gerwig performs the rare feat of not only making Little Women her own, but refreshing it so it still feels relevant to modern audiences. After Lady Bird, her stunning ode to Sacramento in the early 2000’s and also starring Saoirse Ronan, was entirely snubbed by the Academy in 2018, Gerwig more than deserves the recognition.
Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers
Hustlers is a tough sell: It’s based on a 2015 article in New York magazine about strippers who decide to run a scam on their wealthy clients during the 2008 financial recession. In some ways, bringing that story to life onscreen is incredibly difficult, but Lorene Scafaria makes it look easy. She captures these women’s lifestyle, their camaraderie, and their survival instincts while also telling a compelling story. That requires the masterful skill of a director of Scafaria’s calendar.
Olivia Wilde, Booksmart
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut upends the teen buddy comedy: Booksmart follows two very serious high school seniors, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), who realize at the 11th hour that they haven’t actually enjoyed high school because they’ve been so focused on the future. What follows is a thrilling night to remember that results in Amy and Molly loosening up and enjoying being teenagers for the very first time. Wilde not only chronicles an evolving friendship, but really challenges the stereotypes that are typically associated with raucous coming-of-age films. Booksmart also deserved a Best Original Screenplay nod because it balances humor with heart and nails the intimacy of close platonic female friendships. It also features a lesbian character without resorting to the trope of having her be secretly in love with her best friend (thank the Lord). Although Booksmart has been referred to as “the female version of Superbad,” it’s more than capable of standing on its own two feet.
There’s no telling what will happen with the Academy moving forward, but what we do know is that cinema isn’t just the scope of what this institution believes is important.
Since becoming the first Korean film to win the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes film festival, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite has wormed its way into the hearts and psyches of millions of viewers. Though the Academy nominated Parasite for Best Picture, it still deserves placement on our alternative list because it’s an artful and eerie film about race and socioeconomic class, two issues we care deeply about. Parasite’s subtitles and its treatment as a foreign-language film have also continued a much-needed discourse around the ways language barriers change the distribution and nominating of films.
Lulu Wang’s writing and direction as well as Awkwafina, Zhao Shuzhen, and the rest of the cast’s nuanced and emotional performances make The Farewell worthy of a Best Picture nomination. The Farewell is a beautiful film we should all enjoy, and it holds special significance for those seeking more Eastern Asian representation in cinema that actually centers their familial traditions and rituals. The film, which has resonated profoundly with critics and audiences alike, also manages to balance humor with its insightful look into both Asian American and Chinese culture.
Few films launched as much discourse both on and offline as Hustlers, which merges sex work discourse with scam culture in a way that some found frustrating, others found empowering, and most of us found intriguing. Hustlers is both a fun and memorable movie, with a powerhouse cast that included Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, and Lili Reinhart, so it’s surprising the Academy Awards essentially overlooked it.
We’re not surprised the Academy overlooked Benny and Josh Safdie a.k.a. the Safdie Brothers, but it’s no less disappointing. Though their 2017 film Good Time competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and earned its star Robert Pattinson a boat load of acting nominations from film critics societies, the Academy snubbed it entirely—and is taking a similar to approach to the Adam Sandler-led Uncut Gems. Slate’s Heather Schwedel dubbed the film “the most Jewish movie in years,” and it features stellar performances from Sandler, Idina Menzel, Kevin Garnett, and newcomer Julia Fox. And yet, none of that was enough to garner a single nomination.
Jordan Peele’s second feature film is as much a thriller as his first: Us is about a Black family vacationing in Santa Cruz, California, who are visited by doppelgängers—called the Tethered—who share a soul with their human counterpart but are forced to live below ground where they eat raw rabbits for nourishment. Us offers a twisted story about socioeconomic class and trauma that pushed audiences to the limits, much in the way that Get Out did. But somehow, Us didn’t receive the same acclaim from the Academy, which awarded Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out.
Every once in a while, a film does something unexpected: Its greatness travels by word-of-mouth, turning a movie that wasn’t supposed to dominate the box office to the top of it. Knives Out is one of those films. It’s a classic whodunit about the murder of a patriarch of a wealthy family, which leads to the hiring a private detective to investigate his death. What transpires is an ever-folding mystery about not only who killed him, but also the extraordinary lengths people take—up to and including throwing vulnerable people under the bus—to cover their own tracks. Knives Out has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but it deserved far more—including a Best Picture nom.