Academy Awards honors original stories but omits important storytellers


Gage Skidmore, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Best Actor nominee Adam Driver answers questions during a Star Wars panel at Comic Con. He is nominated for “Marriage Story” alongside his co-star Scarlett Johansson and director Noah Baumbach for the 92nd Academy Awards.

The chaotic energy of awards season is rising to a climax as it moves from the Critics Choice Awards, to the BAFTAs, to the Golden Globe Awards, and now to the most anticipated award ceremony of all – the Academy Awards, or more commonly known as the Oscars. They will be held on Feb. 9 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Awards season has always been known to leave film fans in mayhem and division, split between their favorites for the year, but there is something more significant about these recent seasons; people’s voices are being ignored and representation of women and people of color are neglected in the face of the standard male and white nominees. 

2019 saw numerous critically acclaimed works directed by women, such as “Honey Boy” (Dir. Alma Har’el), “Hustlers” (Dir. Lorene Scafaria), “Little Women” (Dir. Greta Gerwig), just to name a few. These films were, as fans have coined it, snubbed by the Academy for Best Director. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the Academy; anger began rising when the Golden Globe nominations were announced with only male Best Director nominations. This lack of women nominations is a pattern Hollywood has repeated for decades. The New York Times Gender Instagram reported five women have been nominated for best director in the 92-year history of the Academy Awards. Other films directed by women which have received zero nominations despite critical acclaim are “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Dir. Marielle Heller), “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Dir. Céline Sciamma), “Booksmart” (Dir. Olivia Wilde), and “The Farewell” (Dir. Lula Wang). 

An example of a nomination snub is “Honey Boy,” which, despite critical acclaim, received zero nominations by the Academy. This story is based on writer Shia Labeouf’s life as a child actor under the care of his abusive father, though fictionalized to tell the story of 12-year-old Otis, who has a similar past to Labeouf. The film is mainly told in flashbacks from adult Otis’ point of view while he is in rehab/therapy after being diagnosed with PTSD. Labeouf plays the role of his father in the film, adding an extra layer of intimate authenticity. 

Director Har’el made a statement on Twitter about her perspective of the lack of women representation in the Golden Globes nominations after an uprising of outraged fans on Twitter formed at the lack of her nomination, despite her winning Special Jury Award for Vision and Craft at the Sundance Film Festival. 

I was on the inside for the first time this year,” Har’el said. “These are not our people and they do not represent us. Do not look for justice in the awards system.” 

In relation to this issue, there is also scarce representation of people of color (POC) in award nominations. However, a fan favorite this year, “Parasite,” has picked up enough steam to land a nomination in the Best Picture category, which is major for a foreign film. When writer Bong Joon-Ho was in college, he tutored a middle-aged son of a strict and wealthy family, which would eventually inspire him to write the movie. The story follows the life of a poor family that scams its way into the lives of a wealthy family. 

In his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, Joon-Ho said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Despite lack of representation in the award nominations, there are many films worthy of praise. “Marriage Story,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “The Irishman” and “The Lighthouse” all deserve recognition because of their original storyline, intense scenes and believable acting. 

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” echoes his real life separation from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, his wife of nine years. Starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who both received nominations in the best actor categories, the film is about a New York couple who is fighting over the custody of their son, bringing out the ugliness of a once loving relationship. Inspired by true experiences, viewers are able to feel the weight of the film and possibly see a glimpse of themselves in it, a sign of good storytelling. 

Indie favorite “The Lighthouse,” directed by Robert Eggers and starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, tells the story of a remote and eerie New England island, inhabited by two lighthouse keepers who are desperately trying to maintain their sanity in the 1890s. While fans were rooting for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for both Dafoe and Pattinson, the film did get a nod for Best Cinematography. Jarin Blaschke achieved the haunting black and white look the film is shot in by using both modern and old-school techniques.

Although there are notable snubs this Oscars season, such as actor Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems” and director Greta Gerwig for “Little Women,” there are also many films that are deserving of recognition. It is still crucial, however, that people continue to fight for their voices to be heard in film, and it’s important for the Academy to support all creators, many of whom are overlooked.