• February 26, 2024

It’s Going To Take Some Work To Make It Permanent : NPR

Clockwise from top left: Audra Day in United States Vs. Billie Holiday, Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari, Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah, Nomadland director Chloé Zhao with Frances McDormand. Takashi Seida / Hulu, A24, Glen Wilson / Warner Bros., Joshua James Richards / 20th Century Studios hide the caption

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Takashi Seida / Hulu, A24, Glen Wilson / Warner Bros., Joshua James Richards / Studios of the 20th Century

Clockwise from top left: Audra Day in United States Vs. Billie Holiday, Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari, Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah, Nomadland director Chloé Zhao with Frances McDormand.

Takashi Seida / Hulu, A24, Glen Wilson / Warner Bros., Joshua James Richards / Studios of the 20th Century

The past year of masks, bans and capacity restrictions was the most disastrous year in cinema history. It was also a banner year for diversity at the Oscars.

As strange as this may seem, I suspect the two things are related – a matter of industrial needs facing hard cash. And as beneficial as the diversity part is, it will take some work to make it permanent. The Academy of the Arts and Sciences for Feature Films, which awards the Oscars, has signaled its willingness to conduct this work with inclusion standards for the best film nominees. They will be rolling them out gradually over the next year.

They were lucky this year.

One thing you don’t want if you’re in charge of the Oscars is a hashtag – specifically something like #OscarsSoWhite – as TV host Chris Rock confirmed in 2016 when this one went viral. “It’s the 88th Academy Awards,” he said to the applause, “which means that this whole thing with the non-black nominees has happened at least 71 times.”

The situation has not changed significantly over the next few years. Last year’s Oscars were again among the least diversified in recent times. Only one of the 20 incumbent nominees was not white.

But this year nine of the 20 – almost half of the incumbent nominees – are not white.

Another show, another hashtag: 2018 was the year of #OscarsSoMale, which Frances McDormand responded to in her acceptance speech for best actress by asking “to have all the female nominees in each category in this room tonight with me “.

Dozens of women stood there as the crowd cheered, but that didn’t have much effect at first either. Last year, as in 86 of the 91 previous years, not a single female director was nominated, although McDormand had finished his speech and urged her colleagues to insist on women behind the camera by adding a clause to their contracts called “inclusion drivers. “

But McDormand took her own advice and this year what a difference a pandemic makes. She produced and starred in Nomadland, a film based on a book by a woman that features the stories of a few women. The film was written, edited and directed by Chloe Zhao, who for the first time in Hollywood history has a woman competing with a second woman in the directing category.

The unprecedented number of color cast among the nominees is a notable moment of recognition.

There were nominations for live performances in the true stories of famous African American figures: Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, each nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Black Panther Fred Hampton and the informant who prepared him for the assassination attempt in Judas and Judas the Black Messiah; Andra Day for Best Actress for playing blues legend Lady Day in the US against Billie Holiday; Leslie Odom Jr. for supporting actor as Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami.

And there were also nominations for fictional characters: a blues singer and her trumpeter in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom earned Viola Davis, and the late Chadwick Bosemen nods for best actress and actress. Youn Yuh-Jung received a supporting actress nomination for the Animated Grandmother in Minari, the story of Korean immigrants in Arkansas. Riz Ahmed became the first Muslim Best Actor nominee to play a heavy metal drummer with hearing loss in Sound of Metal.

All of them are eye-opening performances which taken together are a clear sign that this is a year of inclusion for the academy.

But not necessarily because Tinseltown has awakened to the virtues of diversity. These are the films the studios wanted to open in the middle of a pandemic. A decision they knew would have financial consequences.

Films typically get an Oscar jump when nominated – a spike in ticket sales that can run into the millions in a normal year that gives a film far greater reach.

Last year’s best picture winner, Parasite, is a case in point. The film ran in 300 theaters before it was nominated. After the award, the run in the United States was expanded to five times as many theaters.

But this year, with the cinemas mostly closed and audiences making fun of the crowd, this box office bounce doesn’t happen. If you take all eight nominees for best picture and combine their receipts, the total works out to just under $ 35 million worldwide. That would be an inconspicuous number for just one candidate in a normal year.

To compete for an Oscar in 2020, a filmmaker had to do an almost Faustian business: come out in the middle of the pandemic to get awards, lose your shirt, or sell your soul to a bigger cash office after the pandemic and lose Your shot.

Many of the films that were considered to be Oscar botches decided to wait. A new version of the musical West Side Story, for example, with a script by Pulitzer winner Tony Kushner and directed by Oscar winner Steven Spielberg. Also the star-studded epic costume The Last Duel by Gladiator director Ridley Scott. And The French Dispatch, the latest craze from Wes Anderson, the director of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

These films were all shot, edited, and ready to go in time for Oscar considerations, but their studios chose to wait. And from a financial perspective, it’s easy to see why. Until a few weeks ago, New York and Los Angeles – the two markets that make or break prestige pictures – still didn’t allow theaters to open.

Almost as bad was the fact that the theaters that were open elsewhere reduced attendance to just 25 percent of capacity. That put off even the commercial crowd, from 007 to Marvel superheroes to the Fast & Furious crew.

If they weren’t ready to brave the crippling economy in theaters in a pandemic year, why should Oscar hopefuls?

When the filmmakers had the power to say, “Let’s wait,” they did. And who had this clout? The same mostly male, mostly white stars, producers and studio heads that have always had it.

Who doesn’t seem to have that punch? Start with the women who made Nomadland and Promising Young Woman. Or the Korean-American director of the low-budget indie, Minari.

Or even the well-connected people behind Judas and the Black Messiah, who are the first all-black production team ever to be nominated for Best Picture. They told The Hollywood Reporter they originally thought their film would do about as well as Straight Outta Compton, which grossed $ 200 million worldwide.

The pandemic lowered that estimate, and Warner’s decision to stream all films on the same day they hit theaters lowered it further. With no choice but to join in, the producers watched their film stall at the box office. Instead of $ 200 million, Judas and the Black Messiah made less than $ 6 million.

It is not easy to imagine a Steven Spielberg being put into this position.

Is this another way of saying that Hollywood’s power and privilege still rests mostly with white men? The power to maximize the cash register; The privilege of making event images so expensive that they cannot be seen as loss makers for streaming services.

Yes of course. While dollars are important, they are not essential for filmmakers who have traditionally been marginalized.

This pandemic year will go down in history as the year without a blockbuster – not a single billion dollar superhero epic or action adventure.

But it will also be remembered as a turning point for inclusion. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which produces the Oscars, has made history by nominating all-time actors and a record number of women. If the studios had thrown their weight behind the usual big budget glasses, that might not have happened.

With less expensive, socially conscious films pointing the way back to theaters, the studios have – possibly inadvertently – advocated work that speaks up to this point.

Next year the blockbusters will return and with them, no doubt, many inequalities that seem to be linked to the money they generate. Meanwhile, audiences can celebrate artists for whom award recognition may only be worth more than dollars.

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