Why the 2018 Oscars matter: A look at the push for diversity that's changing the face of the movie industry

Hollywood’s biggest night is here again. Here’s a look at what’s dominating the conversation ahead of the prestigious event.

Merie Wallace/A24/AP
Director Greta Gerwig is on the set of 'Lady Bird.'

Hollywood’s biggest night is here again. As the March 4 Academy Awards broadcast approaches, hosted again by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, here’s a look at what’s dominating the conversation ahead of the prestigious event.

Q: Where do the Oscars stand two years after #OscarsSoWhite came to the forefront?

In 2016, every one of the 20 nominees in the Oscars acting categories was white for the second year in a row, prompting activist April Reign's hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to be revived from the year before. Following that, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it would revamp the academy itself. The group has set a goal of doubling its female and minority membership by 2020 and has also made changes to the way it determines who is able to vote for the awards. In June 2017, the academy announced it would be inviting a record number of new members to join – more than 700. That group is 39 percent women and 30 percent people of color.

[Editor's note:  The original version of this article misstated the year in which the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was created.

Q: How were the 2018 nominations received in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite?

Observers are particularly pleased by the inclusion of directors Greta Gerwig of “Lady Bird,” Jordan Peele of “Get Out,” and Guillermo del Toro of “The Shape of Water” in the best director category. All three movies are also nominated for the best picture prize, while “Get Out” actor Daniel Kaluuya and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” actor Denzel Washington are nominated for best actor. Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer and Mary J. Blige are nominated in the best supporting actress category for “The Shape of Water” and “Mudbound,” respectively.

“It’s always great when you can sort of break some barriers and also ... this myth that a woman can only direct some kind of film or there just aren’t any African-American directors out there or whatever kind of myths,” says Ross Brown, program director for the Master of Fine Arts in writing and contemporary media at Antioch University in Santa Barbara, Calif. “These conversations have been going on for a lot longer than #OscarsSoWhite.” He says he was particularly pleased by the nomination received by cinematographer Rachel Morrison for “Mudbound.” That nomination makes her the first female director of photography to be nominated for an Oscar.

Mr. Brown, who is a member of the Directors Guild of America, says the guild has been discussing, for example, the lack of female directors for decades. “I may be a rosy optimist about some of these things, but I think that the more that you see diverse nominations and diverse work, and people go, wow, that is great work, then the more people will take a chance – what they see as taking a chance,” he says.

Q: How will the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up affect the Academy Awards?

Revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood have prompted some to say that this could be a game-changing moment for the industry. On Jan. 1, lawyers Tina Tchen and Nina L. Shaw; actresses Eva Longoria, America Ferrera, and Reese Witherspoon; and producer Shonda Rhimes, among others, announced the creation of Time’s Up, an initiative that consists of a legal defense fund for those affected by sexual misconduct and an attempt to create legislation that would stop the use of nondisclosure agreements for victims of misconduct.

Those involved in Time’s Up also requested that women attending the Jan. 7 Golden Globes ceremony wear black in support of the movement; others donned white roses for the same reason at the Grammy Awards later that month. At the Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey, who received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, spoke during her speech of “a new day [that when it] finally dawns ... will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men” and “the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again.” Actress Natalie Portman presented the award for best director and called the contenders “the all-male nominees.” At the Oscars, actor Casey Affleck who, as last year’s best actor winner, would normally present this year’s best actress prize, decided not to give out the award. Affleck was sued by two women for sexual harassment and settled with them, though he has denied the allegations.

In terms of #MeToo and Time’s Up, “I have to believe that people will make statements [at the Oscars],” Brown says.

Q: On a less weighty note, is any movie a front-runner for the best picture prize?

Brown says conversations he’s heard about the Oscars and the movies nominated have not clearly favored any particular nominees, which he partially attributes to the 2009 rule change allowing more than five movies to compete for the best picture prize. He says he doesn’t believe there is currently a front-runner for the big award. “Some people really loved ‘Three Billboards [Outside Ebbing, Missouri]’ and others were really strong about ‘Get Out’ being sort of [an] outside-the-box kind of picture and ‘Lady Bird’ ... there’s a lot of good choices,” he says.

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