Time for a frank discussion about where this year’s Academy Award nominations succeeded — and failed — when it comes to culture, representation, and giving all the right people their flowers.
Waking up to see the big reveal of a given year’s Academy Award nominations can evolve from an entertainment editor’s worse nightmare into a dream come true — and perhaps all the way back again depending on the year — in a matter of hours.
As a Black woman, seeing Brian Tyree Henry (Causeway), Angela Bassett and Ruth E. Carter (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever), and Rihanna and Tems (“Lift Me Up”) receive nominations this year for their contributions to the conversation around film and music conversation is a total thumbs-up moment. But how are we supposed to feel when women like Danielle Deadwyler (Till) and Thuso Mbedu (The Woman King) and the undeniable talents of Ryan Coogler (Wakanda Forever), Jordan Peele (Nope), and John Boyega (The Woman King) are not deemed Oscar nomination-worthy?
Taking this into account, can we really say that a win is a win?
Let’s be clear: Institutionalized racism and sexism are blatant within the entertainment industry, and the 2023 Academy Award nominations didn’t fail to prove us right. As women, we’re not seen. As Black storytellers, we’re not heard. For those uncomfortable about the conversation regarding accountability for representation, this hot take may not be for you — but for the rest of you ready for an honest conversation unfettered by the trope of the “angry Black woman” being bestowed upon me as writer among so many others, pull up a chair, because this conversation is going to get deeper than some just-the-facts nominations rundown you can find anywhere else.
All things considered, let’s do a deep dive into what this year’s Oscar nominations and snubs say about what the entertainment industry at large says about women, Black folks, persons of color, and other minority communities that have fought to be in the mainstream film conversation.
Oscar Nominations 2023: Best Picture
First of all, congratulations to all of the nominees. The Austin Butler-led Elvis, A24 cult favorite Everything Everywhere All at Once, and the visually astonishing sequel Avatar: The Way of Water have received uncontroversial nods. However, there is one film that is missing from this conversation of the best film of the year:
The Woman King.
Earning a whopping $19 million during its opening weekend and over $92 million worldwide to date, the film and its all-Black female principal cast did not disappoint despite high expectations that included an A+ CinemaScore rating upon its release to the masses.
At first glance, and moreover, further deliberation, the nominations for this year’s Best Picture category are primarily white-identifying, heteronormative casts principally featuring cisgendered men, with largely the same to be said for the respective filmmakers, directors, and producers. While this isn’t serving as a critique on the nominees and their lack of diversity in their cast (which could steer into a larger conversation), this poses the question, What constitutes as a major contender for Best Picture?
In addition to Till and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, The Woman King has an undeniable strong Black female lead and cast that should have earned it a spot as a frontrunner for Best Picture. From the compelling storytelling, the direction and cinematography to perfectly capture each scene, and the performances of the entire ensemble from John Boyega to Viola Davis — The Woman King was robbed. It was ignored, and this is just the tip of the iceberg as to why Black women do not feel seen, heard, or protected in this industry. Even after raking in $6.85 million on its opening night, we get nothing. Not a nod — nothing.
2023 Best Picture nominees: All Quiet on the Western Front, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Banshees of Inisherin, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Tár, Top Gun: Maverick, Triangle of Sadness, Women Talking
Best Director Nominations 2023
No women — and I repeat, no women — were nominated for Best Director.
That’s shocking, to say the very least. In each of the past two years, women snagged the Best Director Oscar — shoutout to Chloé Zhao for Nomadland and Jane Campion for Power of the Dog — so why remove us from the table completely in 2023? Cleverly relabeled from #OscarsSoWhite to #OscarsSoMale by Variety, the Best Director nominations failed to recognize not only Black folks entirely by nixing the brilliant minds of Jordan Peele (Nope) and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) from the conversation, but women and femme-identifying persons as a whole.
Furthermore, women of color accounted for only 2.7% of directors of the top 100 movies last year, with the number of Black, Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, and multi-racial and multi-ethnic moviemakers also dropping from 27.3% in 2021 to 20.7% in 2022.
Maria Schrader (She Said), Charlotte Wells (Aftersun), Sarah Polley (Women Talking), and the iconic Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King) were just a few of the missing women directors missing from the nomination slate. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once), Todd Field (Tár), Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness), and Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans) were ultimately the figures recognized by the 573 active members of the Academy’s Directors Branch, kick-starting a separate conversation regarding the extent of the cultural presentation among these male nominees.
“Once again, Academy voters have shown that they don’t value women’s voices, shutting us out of the Best Director nominations,” read the official Instagram statement of the Women in Film: Los Angeles organization. “An Academy Award is more than a gold statue, it’s a career accelerator that can lead to continued work and increased compensation. That’s why WIF will continue to advocate for the work of talented women directors like Sarah Polley’s ‘Women Talking,’ Gina Prince-Bythewood’s ‘The Woman King,’ Maria Schrader’s ‘She Said,’ Chinonye Chukwu’s ‘Till,’ and Charlotte Wells’ ‘Aftersun,’ to be included.”
In the history of the Oscars, only seven women have been nominated for directing, with only Zhao and Campion reigning victorious. This group of seven women does not include Ava DuVernay, whose snub for her work on 2015 Best Picture nominee Selma caused a rupture of uproar in the Black community. Need I explain why?
2023 Best Director nominees: Martin McDonagh (The Banshees on Inisherin), Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (Everything Everywhere All at Once), Steven Spielberg (The Fabelmans), Todd Field (Tár), Ruben Östlund (Triangle of Sadness)
2023 Best Actress in a Leading Role Nominations
Michelle Yeoh is taking the awards season for everything — and she’s doing it everywhere and seemingly all at once, isn’t she? Starting 2023 strong with her win at the National Board of Review Gala in New York City, the Everything Everywhere All at Once star’s Oscar nod makes her the first Malaysian woman to be nominated for Best Lead Actress; she’d be the first Asian woman ever to win the award.
Our eyebrows are absolutely raised as to why this breakthrough took Hollywood so long.
Undeniably, Michelle Yeoh captured the hearts of many in a film that drew raves from film critics, viewers, and the AAPI community at-large for its success in depicting Asian and Asian-American characters with a level of authenticity and nuance that recalls 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. She landed her first top-billed Hollywood role at 59 only to steal the hearts of many once the flick hit theaters, but that’s not an excuse as to why it took the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences almost a century to bestow a Best Actress nomination upon an Asian-identifying woman.
The prolific performer has played supporting roles in major hits like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, and Crazy Rich Asians, but ultimately received her flowers for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s A24 film, which was deemed as the production house’s highest-grossing film ever. As noted by The Hollywood Reporter, the Best Lead Actress category is additive to the notoriously trending #OscarsSoWhite conversation, being “historically one of the awards body’s whitest and least diverse, certainly among the four acting races.” Dating back to 1955, Dorothy Dandridge was the first of only a dozen such nods for Black actresses, while Yalitza Aparicio was one of two Indigenous-identifying performers. Only four Latina actresses own the distinction, starting with Fernanda Montenegro in 1999.
Why are we just now recognizing the work and talent of a female Asian actress 95 years into the Oscars’ history?
This isn’t rhetorical. We need answers.
Might I also add that there were no Black women in the Best Lead Actress category? No Danielle Deadwyler for her tearjerking performance in Till. No Viola Davis in The Woman King, who received Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for the performance. No Keke Palmer in Jordan Peele’s Nope.
You see where we’re going here.
2023 Best Actress nominees: Cate Blanchett (Tár), Ana de Armas (Blonde), Andrea Riseborough (To Leslie), Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans), Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once)
The 95th Oscars ceremony will air live on ABC on March 12 from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
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