In the three years since #OscarsSoWhite shone a light on the ever-present lack of diversity that plagues basically every awards show, it seems like things have been one step forward and two steps back: For every Moonlight, there’s a Green Book; for every Frances McDormand speech, there’s uh, plenty of Kevin Hart Hart tweets.
Speaking of that whole ordeal, it made it pretty easy to anticipate this year’s upcoming Oscars ceremony as nothing more than an even more drab version rich people patting themselves on the back – which makes this morning’s nominee announcements all the more refreshing.Things can always be better—as a look at the disappointing lack of representation for Asian actors and female directors, especially 2018’s blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians—but here are some of the ways that this year’s Academy Award nominations are a much-needed step in the right direction toward relevancy.
Diverse heavy-hitters leading the charge
Movies belonging to the spurious subgenre of the “Oscar film” usually fall somewhere on the spectrum between shallow showcases of tokenized diversity (the Blind Side, the Danish Girl) or A-listers playing dress-up (Christian Bale in American Hustle, Christian Bale in Vice).
The films leading this year’s nominations are a welcome and bold break from the tradition of first-world problems and fatsuits. Tied for lead with 10 nominations each are Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. Not only are both from foreign directors, but feature stories and casts that offer a diverse reprieve from the status quo; from Roma’s Mexico City-set middle class coming-of-age tale to The Favourite’s baroque and surreal female-centric queer romance.
Though the Oscars ditching their plans to introduce a “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” category last-minute might have delivered a blow to what was a surefire lock Black Panther, the Academy still had plenty of love for Wakanda. Not only does Panther boast a nearly all-Black cast, but regardless of how many Gold Dudes it takes home —the flick garnered a whopping seven noms—it already holds the honour of being the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture.
Actually-relevant song nominations
Music isn’t exactly the Oscars’ strong suit, I mean, it is a film awards show after all. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that historically, when it comes to the “Best Original Song” category, the Oscars have drifted towards the musical-subgenre-I-definitely-didn’t-just-make-up of “surburban grocery store-core.” Seriously, if I hear “Can’t Stop the Feeling” one more time when I’m checking for ripe avocados, then I’m done with the world.
Thank heavens, however, as 2019’s song list at least approaches something resembling a reflection of what normal people enjoy listening to. There’s Kendrick and SZA Black Panther bop “All the Stars” setting up camp alongside the even-zeitgeistier Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper shower anthem “Shallow.”
The end of the Spike Lee drought
As a director, Spike Lee is a household name that makes the opposite of household films. Despite being a known commodity with a rich filmography that usually grows by the year, Lee has only ever received two – two!!! – Academy Award nominations; one for Do the Right Thing for Best Screenplay in 1990 and again in 1998 with 4 Little Girls’ for aBest Documentary Feature nod.
Until now! This year’s Oscars mark the auteur’s first nomination in over twenty years, and his first overall in the Best Director category (despite that being what he’s largely been known for over the past 30 years) for BlacKkKlansman.