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The Oscar noms for Best Director are in: all men
Once Upon a Time in HollywoodVia IMDb

The Oscar noms for Best Director are in: men, men, men, men, men

As usual, the category is pale, male, and stale – but, hey, what did we expect?

What year is it? It’s hard to tell from looking at the just-announced Oscar nominations for Best Director. The list is made up mostly of previous nominees, including Martin Scorsese for his intense crime drama The Irishman, Sam Mendes for war film 1917, and Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

OK, so Todd Phillips has got a nomination for Joker, and our one, sort of curveball, the South Korean director Bong Joon Ho for the incredible Parasite. But other than Bong, it’s an extremely obvious group of directors, and most importantly, it prompts the question: why, in 2020, is the list made up exclusively of men?

It was 2015, five years ago, that April Reign famously tweeted, “the #OscarsSoWhite they asked to touch my hair” in response to the fact that not a single person of colour was included in the lead or supporting actor categories. The hashtag came to represent the ceremony’s lack of diversity more broadly, including a pretty deeply entrenched gender imbalance. That it went viral meant a moment of reckoning for the Acadamy Awards to wake up and diversify – or, you know, just reflect the broad wealth of talent actually working in contemporary cinema.

In 2017, when Moonlight – an epic film about a gay African American man – won Best Picture, it felt like a shift was starting to happen. In 2018, Time’s Up’s presence at the Golden Globes – where A-list actors wore black in support of victims of sexual harassment – put pressure on the film industry to question its sexism in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, with the Time’s Up campaign getting a moment of attention at the 2018 Oscars too. 

Yet, here we are, years later, and as the nominations are once again announced, critics and Twitter users are disappointed, complaining that the lists are too white – notably, the only actor of colour nominated in a performance category is Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman – and far, far too masculine. As Issa Rae pointedly nailed it when introducing the category for Best Director: “Congratulations to those men.”

Other than the categories that are still, archaically, exclusively for women, like Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, the nominations gear towards the pale, male, and stale. 

In nominating five men for Best Director – reinforcing the ceremony’s safe, predictable, but unfair gender bias – several women were snubbed. Most notably, Greta Gerwig for Little Women, Lulu Wang for The Farewell, and Melina Matsoukas for Queen & Slim. But also Olivia Wilde, for the unexpected hit Booksmart, and Lorene Scafaria for Hustlers – although whether that was ever ‘Oscar material’ is up for debate. 

Given the response to the nomination announcement, it feels like what constitutes ‘Oscar material’ should be up for debate more broadly. The list is chosen by industry professionals who make up the ‘Academy voters’, and – as has been reported in the past – those voters are predominantly white, which could account for why directors and actors of colour are often snubbed. 

A report by the Guardian ahead of this year’s Oscars found that another underlying issue was that some of Hollywood’s biggest leading male actors had scarcely starred in any films directed by women (Leonardo DiCaprio came in at under 10 per cent of his film career, for instance), while the male directors who were this year’s nominee contenders had rarely made films with leading female characters (except Pedro Almodóvar, who came out on top, with 82 per cent). 

The data, along with the nominations for Best Director and Best Picture, suggests that there’s still a negative, pervasive idea that only men can really make or star in blockbusters. Case in point: overall, Joker got the most nominations this year, with 11 categories, followed by The Irishman, 1917, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which all got 10. By comparison, Little Women had six.

For an award ceremony that seems to pride itself on relevancy, this year’s nominations are frankly boring. To somewhat reluctantly use the phrase #NotAllMen, the Safdie Brothers and Adam Sandler, who together made one of the most groundbreaking and original films of the year with Uncut Gems, should have got more recognition.

The internet’s yawn and eye-roll response suggests that while Oscar nominations might reflect the box office, and a win might still make a career, the films in the running don’t really reflect contemporary society, and its diversity – particularly the war and crime films nominated within Best Director and Best Picture, which instead look to the past. 

Even if we don’t really take the Oscars too seriously as an indication of which films were the best films of the year these days, the playing field should still be levelled. It’s only fair, yes, but it would also make a staid ceremony a lot more interesting.