This year’s Oscar nominations are finally out, and it looks like the Academy took last year’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign to heart. Four of the five films nominated for Best Documentary — “O.J.: Made in America,” “13th,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” and “Life Animated” — were helmed by black directors, and three of the five nominees for Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Naomie Harris) were also black.
It’s a welcome change from last year’s slate of nominees, which as you may recall featured no actors of color. Raising awareness, at least in Hollywood, really does lend itself to concrete results. (We’ve come a long way from People magazine’s 1996 cover: “HOLLYWOOD BLACKOUT.”) Three films about black life are nominated for Best Picture, which is unprecedented. Even if it is because the Academy welcomed a raft of new, diverse members last year, I see the resulting nominations as necessary, overdue, and welcome.
In the cinematography category, for example, four of the five nominees were there for the very first time: Bradford Young, who worked on “Arrival,” is the first black cinematographer ever to be nominated. Joi McMillon, who worked on Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” was the first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in film editing. Kimberly Steward, who produced “Manchester by the Sea,” is now the second black female producer ever to be nominated for Best Picture.
While it’s a pity that 2017 can still deliver that kind of first, it’s nonetheless important because of what it signifies: that the tight-knit circle of Hollywood insiders might be starting to fracture. Compared to previous years, the 2017 nomination list looks more black — in front of and behind the camera — than any since 2013’s, and before that, 2009’s.
While these nominations mean progress, Hollywood has plenty of work yet to do. For example, no women were nominated for Best Director this year; since 1929, only four women have ever been nominated, and that’s an absolute shame.
Beyond the diversity of these nominations, this is the least snubby Oscars list I can remember. “La La Land” rivaled “Titanic” and “All About Eve” with a record-tieing 14 nominations, and Meryl Streep earned her 20th nomination, which is its own kind of first. On the other hand, “Weiner” was shut out of the Best Documentary category, and Amy Adams wasn’t nominated even though “Arrival” won eight nominations. (Meanwhile, Oscar voters saw fit to recognize “Passengers” and “Suicide Squad.”) But what’s most interesting about this year’s slate of nominations is its number of first-timers.
Take another Oscars category, the announcement of the nominations itself. This year, the Academy decided it would forgo announcing nominees in front of a live audience at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in favor of producing its own broadcast, which would be streamed live and disseminated simultaneously on Twitter. The old guard wasn’t too happy about that development, as an open letter to the Academy from a longtime Oscars consultant, Dorothea Sargent, attests: “Let me assure you, it is not a good idea. That decision-maker has taken away what I have always described to people as “the cherry on the top of my awards season sundae.”
The world is changing more quickly than ever, and Hollywood now appears to be doing its part to keep up. If this arc of progress is any indication, we’ll see more Twitter eggs broken in favor of a more inclusive omelette. Let the new kids in, I say.