The Oscars have changed remarkably over the past decade. Since the expansion of the Best Picture slot to include up to 10 nominees, there’s been a marked increase in the inclusion – and celebration – of films centred on diversity. This movement kicked up a notch last year with Moonlight’s win, but the Weinstein scandal last October appeared to throw those efforts into sharp relief. Last Monday, it was suddenly a lot more obvious that white men were winning, or even being nominated for, an award over their “diverse” colleagues.
For many of us, this year’s awards felt caught between the Academy’s old habits and the new wave of socially conscious, diversity-focused filmmaking. The Shape of Water won Best Picture, but it was up against mediocre Oscar bait that shouldn’t have had a chance in hell – namely The Post, but also Darkest Hour, and to a lesser extent Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In previous years those films would have been serious contenders, and Darkest Hour probably would have won, but in 2018 the Academy has begun to move on from the kind of stodgy biopics that have been their bread-and-butter for the past century.
But of course, they haven’t entirely moved on, creating the clear division mentioned above. Everyone knew Gary Oldman was going to win Best Actor, even if the film around him wasn’t up to snuff. “It was a legacy award” went the chant, while an undefined contingent wondered when we might stop needing to say such things, and instead get to celebrate the work that we actually liked.
Which brings me to the films that sat right in the middle of the divide – the ones that half of us liked and half of us railed against. More specifically, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Our review praised it, but, personally, I found it distasteful and crass. No matter what you think of the film, it was fairly obvious why it was up there – if not, the “Times Up” pins, shining brightly against black suits, were a pretty good hint.
It is my sincerest hope that in the future we won’t need such glaring political statements to consider a film worthy of recognition. In the same vein, I hope next year we won’t have to take a mediocre biopic seriously. Beyond that, I hope we’ll eventually move past diversity showcases like Shape of Water (politics is fine, but “diversity is good” feels like such a no-brainer that I hope we outgrow it quickly). These aspects of the ceremony already feel outdated – there are richer conversations to be had, the Academy just needs to grow into them. For instance, in the future, we’ll hopefully see more films from people of Asian and Indian backgrounds. Statistically speaking they should be represented far better than they are, maybe one day we’ll examine that problem.
The divisions that we’re experiencing right now aren’t cause for alarm; they’re part of a natural process of correction. It is not that we shouldn’t celebrate white stories, but that they should have to earn their place, rather than being nominated by default. The Oscars are entering a period where they are hungry for exciting ideas from fresh filmmakers. They no longer blindly reflect the movie-going public, but are instead interested in how films function as modern art. You can criticise that approach as elitist, but I would urge you to recognise that the ultimate goal hasn’t changed – it is still to tell stories of everyday people doing extraordinary things. The difference is that the definition of everyday people has been broadened to include groups other than white men. What a world.
Image courtesy of Kevin Mazur/WireImage