When I saw who the Oscar nominees were after waking up this morning, it took me a while to realize that anything was wrong. I got excited for the nominees, surprised over a few snubs, and started to think about who my picks would be to win in each category.
If you've visited any other page of this website, or if you have been following this blog for any length of time, or really just know anything about me beyond what you've read so far in this blog post, you'll know that I'm white. And that comes with an incredible amount of privilege. It's a privilege I've experienced my entire life, to the point where I sometimes even forget that I have it; it's so normal to me. Almost everyone on every screen that I watch looks like me, "The Greats" of most art forms - especially including film - look like me, and the people who praise and critique those people look like me. And while I am aware that it's an issue, it's so common that it's become normalized and I don't always remember it.
So when I saw the list of Oscar nominees, it didn't occur to me that just about all of them were white men. I didn't think of Ava DuVernay, who nearly made history as the first nominated black female director. I didn't think of the fact that Top Five was nowhere to be found. All the films that had been nominated were (in my opinion) deserving, so everything was generally fine.
Thank god for my friends who can see things more clearly than I, and who pointed some things out to me that I am now very disappointed I didn't notice for myself.
It's true that awards shows grow increasingly irrelevant as they continue to ignore the films that the average moviegoer actually sees. The Academy expanded the Best Picture category in order to include big blockbuster films, but generally doesn't do so. Award winning films are not taking in more money after their awards, and the Academy has had many famous instances of not giving statues to films that have stood the test of time and become cultural icons. The classic example: Citizen Kane didn't win Best Picture when it came out. The more modern example: Neither did The Social Network. Whether or not a movie won an award tends to ultimately mean nothing after a month or two.
But whether or not women and people of color are recognized for their work and taken seriously can mean everything, forever.
I'm not arguing that we should give award nominations to any old film that was made by women or people of color just because it was made by women or people of color. Giving awards just to help advance a movement does nothing but cheapen the award, make the movement seem weak, and overall prove itself to be a useless and meaningless action. And I'll even argue that, although Selma is nominated for Best Picture, there's no way it's going to win out over Boyhood. Selma is a great film, but Boyhood has literally changed the way we perceive cinema and the way it can be done. We can - and very much should - make other films telling black stories, but it will be a very long time before we see another movie like Boyhood.
But the fact that, in a year with films like Selma, Top Five, and also Annie, Wild, and Gone Girl, the fact that there aren't at least more nominations and recognition of the work of women and people of color is at best saddening, and, honestly, a bit closer to terrifying. We as a community can do better than this. We as a community can represent the people we strive to entertain better than this. And while it's too late for the 2015 Oscars, the silver lining is that at least we can do better next year.
Seriously, though. We have to do better next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. And every year, until even a white girl like me who has grown up surrounded by her skin color being the norm on screen would notice an Oscar nominees list that is almost entirely white men. And every year after that, until there is no such thing as just one skin color being the norm on screen. It certainly isn't in real life. And isn't it our job as artists to hold a mirror up to society - all of society?
The Academy Awards 2016: We can do better.