The nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were ultimately a striking illustration of an organization in flux. As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to diversify its ranks, aggressively adding hundreds upon hundreds of new members each year at an increasing rate (many of them from overseas), this will be the ongoing story: The collective taste of a cinema institution is shifting.
This year’s lineup has something for just about everyone:
Are you eager to see continued support for filmmakers and stars of color after those embarrassing #OscarsSoWhite years? “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman” landed in the best picture lineup, with Spike Lee landing a directing nomination (his first) for “Klansman,” in addition to an adapted screenplay notice, with Kevin Willmott. Barry Jenkins (adapted screenplay) and Regina King (supporting actress) were recognized for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” as was “Green Book” star Mahershala Ali. “Roma” saw Alfonso Cuarón (director, cinematographer, original screenplay), Yalitza Aparicio (lead actress) and Marina de Tavira (supporting actress) secure bids.
Speaking of “Roma,” looking for international flavor? Two of the directing nominees, Cuarón and Pawel Pawlikowski (“Cold War”), were cited for foreign-language films, while a third (“The Favourite” helmer Yorgos Lanthimos) hails from Greece. Aparicio became the first Mexican indigenous actor to be nominated for an Oscar, joining de Tavira on the short list of Latinx nominees, while Cuarón’s film joined two other foreign-language entries — “Cold War” and “Never Look Away” — in the cinematography category, a first there.
Interested in LGBTQ inclusion? Seven actors were nominated for playing, and three best picture nominees centered on, queer characters.
Were you a fan of the ill-fated “best popular film” Oscar? The average global box office tally of this year’s best picture nominees is north of $340 million, even when including “Roma,” which has reported no official box office figures. “Black Panther” is also the biggest hit to be nominated in nearly a decade, since James Cameron’s “Avatar.”
Or do you just want good old-fashioned prestige awards bait that sends you home on a cloud? “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book” each weathered their detractors to receive five nominations apiece, including best picture. Winners of the top prizes at the Golden Globes, they could still be threats to take home the gold at the Oscars in a race that’s still very much up for grabs.
It really was a fascinating set of nominations to look through. It’s not quite “old Academy,” not quite “new Academy,” and certainly not a mirror of the British Academy across the Pond. It’s a sui generis blend, and there’s something a little exciting about that. There was a time when Oscar voters were easy to nail down. Not any more.
“The Academy is changing and still taking shape as a vast, international group of film professionals.”
From here, campaigns all across the industry will pivot for the win, aiming to engage voters with unique messaging. “Black Panther,” for example, will continue to trade on its “build bridges not barriers” mantra, cribbed from a line of dialogue in the film. That’s going to be potent in the middle of a government shutdown due to a dispute over funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Roma” will tread similar waters, while also playing on ideas of invaluable working-class contributions to society. “BlacKkKlansman” will engage the zeitgeist, and the rise of the alt-right, with a call to “infiltrate hate,” as its tagline says; “Green Book” will shoot for the heartstrings with popular notions of setting aside racial differences and learning from one another.
That’s just to name a few. There will be plenty of time to dissect the trend going forward, but the key observation for now is that the Academy is changing and still taking shape as a vast, international group of film professionals. Voters’ choices this year have reflected that. And with another several hundred more members set to be invited later this year, one wonders how next season will continue to tell this story — and the season after that, and the season after that…