The Oscars are slowly becoming more progressive, but is it enough?

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Despite what we can agree was a grim, socially-distanced, host-less Oscars ceremony last year, 2021 has been a renaissance for the movies in my, and many others’, experiences. The films that have filled our days and nights — whether in the cinema or from the comfort of our homes — have returned a much-needed sense of normality into our lives and are now beginning to pick up momentum during awards season.

Led by The Power of The Dog with twelve nominations, followed closely by Dune’s ten, this year’s awards ceremony looks to be quite an exciting one, with the Academy showing slow yet gradual progress towards more diverse nominations.

2022 will be the third year in a row a director of Asian origin gets Oscar recognition, with Drive My Car’s Ryûsuke Hamaguchi in the race for Best Director (and Chloe Zhao winning in 2021 alongside Bong Joon-ho famously winning in 2020 for Parasite). Hamaguchi is the first Japanese director nominated for this award since the legendary Kurosawa in 1986. It is refreshing to see the academy look beyond the US in recognition, and I think, even though these nominations aren’t what most people expected, the directors category is deservedly diverse.

The Power of The Dog’s Jane Campion has become the first woman ever to receive more than one nomination in this category, having previously been nominated for 1994’s The Piano for which she missed out on director but did go home with Best Original Screenplay. Kathryn Bigelow and Chloe Zhao remain the only two women awarded best director ever, so for now Campion will remain in the short list of women nominated for this award, a list which also includes the likes of Greta Gerwig, Sofia Coppola and Emerald Fennell (a list too short, if you ask me). In what perhaps is the biggest surprise of Tuesday’s announcements (at least it was definitely a surprise to me), Dune’s Denis Villeneuve has missed out on a nomination in directing.

tHe academy needs to make sure not only that awards are given diversely, but also that opportunity is diversified in the industry

The acting categories are also fairly diverse this time around, with two black actresses nominated in the supporting actress category for the first time since 2018, with King Richard’s Aunjanue Ellis and West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose both up for going home with an Oscar. The leading actor category is also looking diverse, with Will Smith racking up a nomination for his performance in King Richard and veteran actor Denzel Washington obtaining his 9th acting nomination for his portrayal of the mad Shakespearean king in The Tragedy of Macbeth, making him the most-nominated African-American actor. Alongside Smith and Washington, the competition is strong; Andrew Garfield is aiming for gold in his second-ever nomination for tick… tick… BOOM!, the illustrious Benedict Cumberbatch will be looking to do the same for his performance in The Power of The Dog and Javier Bardem’s nomination — his fourth in the category — proves the race for best actor will be a tough one this year.

While the academy has a lot of work to do in terms of diversity and inclusivity, it’s good to see the second-ever nomination of a deaf actor in Troy Kotsur’s performance in CODA (2021 saw the nomination of a deaf character in The Sound of Metal, however played by a hearing actor). The Oscars has also brought new corners of the world into the spotlight, finally nominating Bhutan’s candidate for Best International Feature, Pawo Choyning Dorji’s Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan had previously submitted films to this category three separate years, each time being rejected).

As a Spanish speaker I’m very happy to see our language represented; not only did Encanto get into our heads this year (“We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no…”), it also received three Oscar nominations for it’s achievements in Feature Animation, Best Original Score and Best Original Song — however, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” will miss out on the latter, with Encanto’s candidate for the category instead being Sebastián Yatra’s “Dos Oruguitas”. Disney’s and Pixar’s animated films have also breathed an air of diversity into the 2022 Academy Awards, with it’s Italian-based Luca and Asian-inspired fantasy world of Raya and The Last Dragon being in the race for Best Animated Feature alongside the Colombian-set Encanto.

While the Academy is on the right path in terms of diversity, sidelining categories such as film editing or animated short doesn’t help it’s cause. For example, if the Chilean-directed short film BESTIA strikes gold (being up for a best animated short award) they will pick it up off-air. The Academy has said these sidelined categories will be given their respective awards in a pre-recorded show, in order to make more space for live musical performances and other segments during the live telecast. If they claim to be diverse, why then do they sideline their diverse categories?

I think we all believe that recognizing diverse talent in an inclusive manner is an important step for the film industry, however there’s still a lot to do in that regard; despite reaching record-high numbers in 2019, women made up only 20% of production roles that year, with above-the-line roles such as director, producer and writers still being mostly men. And while artists of diverse backgrounds are getting recognized more often, the academy needs to make sure not only that awards are given diversely, but also that opportunity is diversified in the industry; jobs are just as important as awards for representation, and I believe we must give the same importance to hiring people of intersectional backgrounds within the industry as we do to giving them Oscars, BAFTAs and Grammys.

With the Oscars Award Ceremony not too far away (27 March, 1am UK time) you can still catch up on all these nominated films! Currently Falmouth’s Phoenix Cinema is showing Belfast, Power of The Dog is up on Netflix and the likes of West Side Story can be found on Disney+. Go stretch your film muscles and watch something you’ve never seen before!