[Written By: Flora Spencer Grant]
[Illustration: Julia Rosner]
I love film. I study film. I one day hope to work in film, but I hate awards season. The nominees and winners never seem to reflect the films that I love – and yet somehow I still find myself watching every year. It’s generally the same story across all creative industries. Seeing Beyoncé nearly cry when Lemonade was snubbed for best album (she is the artist of my life and Adele’s life) pretty much solidified my hatred of the Grammys, and yet I still pay attention to the whole thing. Even though I’m aware of the fact that awards are not the be all and end all (I’m pretty sure Beyoncé isn’t losing any sleep) I can’t help but feel that they are still significant.
When Moonlight initially seemed to lose the Oscar for Best Picture, I cried (I cry a lot); I was genuinely upset that such a beautiful film had lost to something so blah, but I also wasn’t surprised. I honestly don’t think La La Land deserved to even be considered in the same category as Moonlight (although I know this is a contentious stance to take), but the fact that it had won wasn’t shocking at all to me. I’m going to be up front about my bias here: I went into La La Land not expecting great things, but it wasn’t even the whole ‘white man saves jazz’ narrative that made me dislike it. I was just underwhelmed by the whole film, the dancing and singing (pretty key factors in the musical genre) weren’t particularly good, and my overall reaction to the film was that anyone who loved it must never have seen a classic 1950s American musical (another disclaimer: Singin’ in the Rain is one of my favourite films). Anyway, this isn’t a review of La La Land – I’m just trying to express how low my level of expectation is for the formal recognition of films with diverse production teams and casts (even when they are outstanding).
This is not just an American problem. Although the mainstream discussion of diversity in the film industry started with #OscarsSoWhite in 2015, overwhelming whiteness of the nominees was not limited to the Academy Awards. The same year, all 20 acting nominees at the BAFTAs were white (and the following year only 2 were non-white), not to mention the significant lack of diversity in nominations and awards for production roles.
Yes, things are changing, but these developments within film and within media culture as a whole should not be overstated; it is still a novelty to have a film with a majority black cast (let alone have that film be well-received and given awards). There is a sort of poetic justice in the fact that, moments after calling for diverse work to be supported in the same breath as thanking his ‘blue eyed wife’, Jordan Horrowitz (La La Land’s producer) had this hope realised. Moonlight being awarded Best Picture is significant, but it is not enough. The change is incremental and the representation of other marginalised groups is still negligible (there have only been three actors of Asian descent that have won Oscars in the ceremony’s 90-year history).
I feel like I should end on a positive note, but I honestly don’t know if representation within awards will be better in the near future. I really hope it will but this whole issue is just a refection of broader social inequalities as a whole (I don’t have nearly enough words to get into that right now though). But people are trying, new stories are being made and new voices are being heard.
N.B. If Daniel Kaluuya wins the Oscar I take all of this back.
N.B. UPDATE: Daniel Kaluuya did not win, this all still stands.