Film & Television

Oscars Preview: The Academy Celebrates Diversity — And Some Damn Good Movies

Join Women’s Voices for Change for our annual Oscars Live Blog this Sunday, February 26. Tune in to the broadcast on ABC-TV at 7:00 pm EST, then log-on to WVFC and let us know what you think of all the Hollywood glitz and glamour in real-time. — Ed.


This week’s New Yorker cover has a portrait of the Academy Awards statuette with African features. Erik Drooker, the artist, has titled it “#OscarsNotSoWhite.”

Last year, the Academy was soundly criticized for its lack of diversity. This year, which marks the eighty-ninth anniversary of the Awards, we’re seeing a pendulum swing. “I’m glad this is finally beginning to change,” Drooker is quoted in The New Yorker online. “Movies have a powerful influence on us. They can stimulate—or limit–our imaginations.”

Of course, there is a conundrum here, along the lines of the cliché: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Have the Oscars disregarded great films with and by African-Americans? Or does the industry produce so few of them that, statistically speaking, the lack of nominations is inevitable? The same questions can be asked about Hollywood opportunities for women, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, Muslims and myriad groups other than white men.

This year’s inclusion of a more diverse set of nominees could be seen as a pendulum swing or as an exercise in “right-sizing.” Or perhaps there really have been more and better opportunities. Regardless, the films, directors and performers being honored represent a great year for Hollywood — with breadth and depth we don’t always see.

There are nine films nominated for Best Picture (a few years ago, the Academy changed the rules, allowing more titles to be included in this most important of categories).  These include a number of genres: one science fiction (Arrival), one musical (La La Land), a WWII action movie (Hacksaw Ridge), a family saga in the American West (Hell or High Water), a family saga in the American Northeast (Manchester By The Sea), an epic journey trough India (Lion), and three films that address different aspects of the African-American experience.

The first, Fences is based on August Wilson’s much lauded 1983 play. Denzel Washington co-produced and directed the film, and he also stars alongside Viola Davis. (The two won Tony Awards for the play’s 2010 Broadway revival and are both nominated for their performances here.) Bringing it to the screen has been a labor of love for Washington, and it’s provided a chance for more people to see this important work. The movie tells the story of a disillusioned former ballplayer in 1950s Pittsburgh, and the family he ad his bitterness all but destroy.

Hidden Figures, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes work of three black mathematicians at NASA during the space race, has surpassed box office expectations —to the delight of mothers, teachers and little girls who like math and science. Although much of the story has been reshaped for the screen (including a white “white knight” in the guise of Kevin Costner, who is good here but a bit gratuitous), the three real-life women are honored at the movie’s end. Newcomer (and singer/songwriter) Janelle Monáe shines; Octavia Spencer is nominated for an Oscar (her second if she wins); and Taraji P. Henson was robbed (in my humble opinion).

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