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How Oscar Nominees Defied Expectations in #MeToo Era

Old voting patterns fell by the wayside this Oscar season, making for a more diverse nominee class than usual.

Nominees defied expectations in numerous categories, from best picture to cinematography and director. These choices challenge established notions of what nominees look like – and the type of films that make it onto the Academy Awards ballot – at a moment when #TimesUp for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood.

Is this a sign that Hollywood is broadening its approach toward prestige movie making? Has the Academy’s diversity push started to affect voting patterns? It’s too soon to say, but that doesn’t lessen the accomplishment of these nominees. Rather, it is all the more reason to savor them.

This year’s boundary breakers range from “Mudbound” cinematographer Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever nominated in the category, to Christopher Plummer, who replaced Kevin Spacey in “All the Money in the World” at the 11th hour and became a supporting actor nominee at 88, surpassing Gloria Stuart as the oldest actor ever nominated.

Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele both defied the odds to become directing nominees, traditionally a bastion of white men, and also received original screenplay nominations. Gerwig became the fifth female director honored with “Lady Bird” and Peele the fifth black man to do so with “Get Out.” Strikingly, they each achieved this recognition on their first solo directing try. Peele gets points for added difficulty in landing a nomination for a genre movie; horror movies typically have a hard time gaining validation from Academy members. Neither was considered a slam dunk as a nominee.

New Wave director Agnes Varda, who received an honorary award in November, surpassed Plummer on the octogenarian front when she was nominated for “Faces Places” in the documentary category at 89, becoming the oldest nominee ever; she shares the nomination with JR and Rosalie Varda.

“Mudbound” director Dee Rees didn’t make it to the final five for that category, but she did become first African-American woman to be nominated in the adapted screenplay category; she shares that nomination with Virgil Williams.

At a time dominated by #MeToo headlines, women’s stories resonated with the Academy: Four of the best picture nominees revolve around female leads, an unusually high percentage. “Lady Bird” focuses on the fraught relationship between a teen (Saoirse Ronan) and her highly critical mother (Laurie Metcalf), while the combative “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” centers on a mother’s quest to find the man that raped and killed her daughter, with leading lady Frances McDormand adopting a John Wayne swagger for the role; she, like Ronan and Metcalf, received a nomination for her performance.

Meryl Streep anchors best picture nominee “The Post” as newspaper owner Katharine Graham, a woman who finds her voice when she makes a tough publishing decision. This is her 21st acting nomination, extending her own record tally. And fellow best picture nominee “The Shape of Water” focuses on an even more unlikely heroine: A mute cleaning lady (nominee Sally Hawkins) who falls for a green-gilled monster in a Cold War setting.

You’d have to go back to the beginning of the decade to find anywhere near the amount of female powered storytelling in best picture nominees: 2010 releases “Black Swan,” “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone” were nominated, while the preceding year “The Blind Side,” “An Education” and “Precious” each received nominations. The Academy’s decision to double the number of potential nominees late last decade opened up the potential for more female powered storytelling, even if it hasn’t always turned out that way.

Trans stories made headway this year, too: Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” starring Daniela Vega was nominated in the foreign-language category. And Yance Ford, a black trans man, directed and produced Netfllix’s “Strong Island,” a doc about his brother’s murder and racial injustice in the criminal justice system that was nominated.

Last, to prove boundary busting can go both ways, popcorn superhero movie “Logan” received a nomination in the adapted screenplay category for Scott Frank, Michael Green and James Mangold, the latter of whom also directed. It was the first such screenplay nomination for a comic book adaptation.

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