The Oscar nominations are out and everyone’s expectedly fired up over some glaring omissions. Similar to the situation every publication faces when building year-end lists, not everyone is going to be happy with the outcome. We all have distinct opinions about who we believe deserves to be recognized for their contributions towards art of any kind. This year’s batch of nominees is unsurprisingly dominated by white male actors and directors. The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Spotlight all picked up several nominations including the coveted Best Picture. There isn’t a single film starring a predominately black cast in the running, and this is the second year in a row where black actors have gone unrecognized for their critically lauded performances.
I’ve read a lot of reactions, hot takes, and explanations, and there’s been a lot thrown out there ever since yesterday morning. Sure, we do have to understand that there’s a huge part of the Academy that simply is uninterested in stories they can’t relate to, but there’s more to it. It brings me back to the 2015 Emmys, where Viola Davis delivered one of the finest acceptance speeches I’ve ever seen. While thanking her peers and basking in her well-deserved win, she delivered a cold truth. “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” It’s a sobering thought, and it still rings true. There is a huge issue with opportunities for actors and directors of color to bring their stories to mainstream Hollywood, but even still … this doesn’t justify the extreme lack of recognition for the work that was released in 2015.
So where did the Academy get it wrong? Well, let’s start with Straight Outta Compton. F. Gary Gray’s hip-hop biopic defied all expectations by becoming the highest-grossing music biopic of all time. It’s also the highest-grossing domestic film made by a black director. Commercial success aside, Straight Outta Compton received overwhelming critical praise for depicting the rise and fall of N.W.A. and delivering a social message that resonated with today’s conflicted climate. It’s since been nominated for countless awards (winning several of them), including a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
There’s simply no denying its success, but despite every accolade, Straight Outta Compton picked up only one nomination – Best Original Screenplay. Did it deserve more? You bet your ass it did. O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Jason Mitchell delivered two of 2015’s most dynamite performances. Some have claimed they weren’t the best performances of the year, so let’s dissect this argument. Let’s look at The Martian, led by the ever-charismatic Matt Damon. Damon did his job, and he did it well. But let’s be honest, Damon Damon’d. Nothing about The Martian required him to step outside of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, Mitchell, a guy from New Orleans, had to learn the West Coast dialect and style, and deliver an intense, yet endearingly vulnerable portrayal of Eazy-E. That’s no easy feat. And few moments rival O’Shea’s explosive scene where Ice Cube ruthlessly took a baseball bat to a label executive’s office. SOC created overnight stars out of its main players and truly defined what making it in America is all about. And in a world where War Horse can receive SIX nominations, including Best Picture, I find it absurd that Straight Outta Compton isn’t Oscar worthy. F. Gary Gray crafted a hip-hop classic, masterfully balancing all its components. His success also deserved a Best Director nomination.
Then there’s Creed, brought to you by the same dynamic duo that delivered 2013’s heartbreaking indie drama, Fruitvale Station. Just like what happened at this year’s Golden Globes, Creed received one nomination – Best Supporting Actor for Sylvester Stallone. Don’t get me wrong, Stallone acted his ass off and his nomination is wholly justified, but I have a huge issue with Ryan Coogler‘s omission. Coogler reinvigorated the series, convinced Stallone to come back for another bout, reintroduced Rocky’s legacy to an entirely new generation, and championed a new hero to carry on the story. Pound for pound, Creed stands as one of the best films last year, and a lot of that falls on the director’s sound vision, oh yeah, and the dude co-wrote the script.
Then there are some omissions that haven’t been discussed as much. Samuel L. Jackson’s performance in The Hateful Eight is genuinely one of his finest performances. And Dope? Where is its nomination for Best Original Screenplay? Straight Outta Compton, whose screenplay was penned by four white people, earned a Best Original Screenplay nod. Dope, a film with an equally compelling script, was written by its director Rick Famuyiwa, and received no love. How about Beasts of No Nation? No one can tell me that Idris Elba and newcomer Abraham Attah didn’t create something truly rare and magnificent. It’s not hard to understand why people get upset by these things.
Listen, there’s a huge difference between winning an award and getting nominated, but both accomplishments carry a ton of weight. People aren’t upset for no reason, black Hollywood showed out in 2015, rivaling the best of their white counterparts, but there’s zero recognition for the former. A nomination means, “Hey, we recognize your impact on film and celebrate its achievements.” Nothing pushed the needle more in 2015 than two predominately black films igniting some of the most important dialogue in the industry (save blockbusters titans like Star Wars and Mad Max). It seems that black Hollywood is often unfairly judged and lacks the proper support during these prestigious races, and simply saying, “Hey, no POC deserved a nomination, BUT there is a problem,” is remarkably silly, and shortsighted.
Hollywood, and those involved, must do better.
Photo Credit: Universal