Hollywood Puts on a Brave Face in Light of a Truly Dark Year

Nils takes a critical look at this year's Academy Award nominations...

The nominations are in, and now throughout Hollywood speeches are being written, falsely gracious losing faces practised, probably even somewhere red carpets dry-cleaned. And yet this year’s ceremony will take place in the light of what can only be described as a truly earth-shattering year for the industry.

The crest of the wave that was the outing, in early October, of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual abuser within the entertainment industry, led to a tide of allegations and accusations dating back decades which rocked the very foundations of show business. Week in, week out childhood heroes have become villains, funny men turned into brutes, and cult films and TV shows rendered virtually unwatchable in light of what has been revealed.

Bearing this in mind, the 2018 Oscars is bound to be influenced and quite rightly affected by a still-unravelling backdrop of anger and defiance against a culture of abuse which has been bubbling under the surface for years, unspoken, unaddressed – but ever-present. Equally, after a year of scandalous headlines and bad feeling arising from a certain incoming president, the ceremony will be infused with an even greater political urgency.

This can already be seen through the nominations, most notably in the films competing for the coveted Best Picture spot, in a race shaping up to be unusually open this year. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the big winner at the Golden Globes with 4 awards, is a film that follows the defiant struggle of a mother seeking justice for the rape and murder of her teenage daughter in a town eager to ignore it. Allegorically speaking, it could hardly be more topical, and although its writer and director Martin McDonagh chalks it up to pure coincidence, its place as one of the frontrunners this year for the main award is a welcome and timely sight in a troubled environment.

Another female-led drama in the race for the top step is Lady Bird, a coming-of-age drama charting the fraught relationship between a wantaway teen and her mother. Its director, Greta Gerwig, earned a nod for best director, only the fifth woman in the Academy Awards’ 90-year history to do so, and will become only the second to clinch the category if she wins. Gerwig has said she aims for her recognition to inspire other women to have the confidence “to make their movie”. A win for her would be especially welcome anytime, although possibly more so now in the midst of the current, ongoing conversation over how women should be treated in Hollywood.

Another area of long-overdue progress came in the lesser publicised categories. Rachel Morrison, the cinematographer on Netflix’s drama Mudbound, about racial segregation in America’s south during WWII, became the first woman ever nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar. This is a startling statistic – the lack of recognition and opportunity in the entertainment industry for women behind the camera is as recent and prevalent an issue as the current exposure of the severity of its abuse culture, with just last year 80% of nominees being male.

Whilst such steps as this years’ nominations are certainly welcome in the age of #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement, they cannot be simply methods of appeasement utilized by a broken industry. What’s needed is a fundamental change in the culture of how women both in front of and behind the camera are treated and viewed in Hollywood.

A sign that there’s work still to be done in this regard comes in the case of Wonder Woman. Pegged for at least success in the technical categories, the superhero epic was overlooked whilst other mainstream ‘genre’ films such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Logan both received nominations, leading to widespread disappointment.

The same urgency is also needed for the advancement of a more racially diverse industry, which this year built on 2017’s push to make the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag a thing of the past. Mudbound’s director and co-writer Dee Rees became the first black woman nominated for screenwriting with a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay, whilst Get Out’s Jordan Peele became only the fifth black person ever to be nominated for Best Director.

Get Out, about a black man who uncovers strange happenings when he meets his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time, is a great film, and razor-sharp in highlighting issues about race in western culture. It’s also where one starts to notice a significant British presence to this year’s proceedings, with Black Mirror’s Daniel Kaluuya nominated for the coveted Best Actor spot for his turn as the bemused boyfriend in the film.

He is joined in the race by retiring Academy favourite Daniel Day-Lewis for his masterful portrayal of an obsessive 50s fashion designer in Phantom Thread, as well as Gary Oldman hoping to finally win a long-deserved Oscar for his role as Winston Churchill in the WW2 drama The Darkest Hour. Another British orientated production in the race for Best Picture is Christopher Nolan’s ensemble suspense-filled war film Dunkirk, for which he is also nominated for Best Director.

Yet as easy as it would be to focus purely on the British perspective and rejoice in an admittedly fine year for British film, this year’s Oscars has an impossible job to shine a light on an industry still reeling from recent allegations against those in positions of power and, formerly, respect. As hard as its organizers might try to keep the so-called ‘Weinstein effect’ away from the discourse surrounding the ceremony, inevitably it will be a subject never too far from the conversation.

One example already of the Academy attempting to dispel any of its fallout from touching the ornate veneer of the event is perhaps the startling omission of actor James Franco, star of comedy-drama The Disaster Artist, from the nominations for Best Actor, despite his strong showing at the Golden Globes, which led many to see him as a frontrunner. The omission comes amidst his own embroilment in recent accusations of sexual misconduct. A wise decision probably, although some have argued it to be uncalled for due to a lack of verification of the claims.

Similarly, Casey Affleck has opted out of presenting the award for Best Actress, despite it being Academy tradition for the previous year’s Best Actor winner to present said award, in response to the controversy arising from his history with sexual harassment. In fact, it’s been revealed he won’t be attending the Oscars at all. Whether or not he was asked to do this or just succumbed to social pressure is unknown; either way, it exemplifies exactly how the ceremony is inevitably at the mercy of recent events.

The truth is whatever they do, the subject is inescapable – and perhaps it should be. After years of cover-ups, settlements, career threats and lies, out in the open, finally, is where it should be.

This year’s Oscars will take place on Sunday 4th March.

Nils Berg

Featured image courtesy of Blueprint Pictures via IMDb.

Image use license here.

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