There’s never been a list of Oscar nominations quite like this year’s. At first glance, the nominees for the 94th Academy Awards may seem like a step backwards, especially in the more visible categories. Of the 20 actor nominations, only four went to actors of color, down from nine last year, though two this year, Will Smith and Ariana DeBose, are heavily favored to win. But zoom out a bit, and the picture is quite different. Jane Campion became the first woman to be nominated twice for Best Director, and three of the Best International Picture nominees were also recognized in other categories, the first time the Academy has recognized so much of what it used to be called foreign language films. in so many different ways.*
Alongside the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s latest report, which found sustained (if not always steady) gains in the number of women and people from underrepresented groups making films over the past 15 years, the nominations offer hope. that the industry walks the walk, even if they are not that far down the path. But it’s when you look beyond the most scrutinized demographics of race and gender that the changing face of the Academy becomes truly apparent. The massive push to diversify membership after a landmark 2012 Los Angeles Times article found Oscar voters to be 94% white and 77% male has indeed resulted in a starkly different electorate. Total membership has increased by more than two-thirds over the past decade; according to AMPAS statistics, the number of active female members has more than doubled between 2015 and 2020, and the number of members from underrepresented ethnic and racial communities has more than tripled. The pace has slowed somewhat since then – last year’s group of new inductees was half the size of the previous year – but the percentages have held up: 46% women, 39% underrepresented groups and 53% from outside the United States.
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This latter figure is often overlooked or even omitted entirely from statistical breakdowns. And to be fair, a foreign-born presence in the film industry is not a new phenomenon: from directors like Billy Wilder and Frank Capra to stars like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, many of the personalities who have defined the classic Hollywood style were recent immigrants. . But these new Oscar voters are not assimilated strangers to the American system. Among those inducted into the Academy last year were Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania and Romanian documentary filmmaker Alexander Nanau, who don’t seem too keen on their next Marvel project. These voters don’t just live outside the United States; they bring to the electorate a worldview that truly encompasses the world.
Extracting stories from awards shows is tricky, especially when most of the relevant data (who voted for what and how the winners won) remains hidden. (Imagine what political reporting would look like if there were no exit polls or total votes, and all you had to do was figure out who won and who lost.) But in looking at the last few years, a trend is undeniable. From 2015, when the Academy began its five-year effort to double the number of women and people from underrepresented groups, until 2018, only a tiny handful of films in a language other than English have been recognized outside the categories of animation, documentary and what was then still called foreign language film. But from 2019, with Rome‘s 10 nominations, the move away from this monolingual standard has been dramatic and, after three years of moving in the same direction, appears to be permanent.
In their respective years at the Oscars, Rome and even Parasite could have looked like unicorns, the case of a simply extraordinary film triumphing over the historical provincialism of the Oscars. But put in context, they look less like exceptions than evidence that the rules themselves are changing. RomeWriter-director Alfonso Cuarón is a well-established figure in the industry – a past winner and nominee in other categories, as well as the creator of the Harry Potter franchise’s standout entry – – so the Academy could have being predisposed to look benevolent on his autobiographical passion project (and besides, he lost to green paper). But the same cannot be said of Poland’s Pawel Pawlikowski, whose film Cold War was nominated alongside Cuarón in the Director and Cinematography categories, as well as the newly renamed Best International Feature Film category. (He lost to Rome all three times.) 2020 has been the year of Parasiteof the staggering win for Best Picture, and also the year that North Macedonia honey country made history by receiving nods in the Documentary and International Feature categories – two signs, one subtle and the other unmistakable, that current Academy voters feel no allegiance to the received wisdom that films should stay in their prescribed ways, especially whether they are documentary or not in English.
Last year, the trend continued, with minarian American film whose dialogue is largely in Korean, winning six nominations and the Danish film another round collect two. But the Academy has never distributed the wealth as it did in 2022, with three non-English films, drive my car, The worst person in the worldand To flee, garnering nine nominations in seven different categories. It’s a particularly remarkable feat, because most of these nominations are generated by separate branches of the Academy: animators nominate animated films, writers nominate screenplays, and so on. It’s not just that Academy voters like drive my car en masse, but that the writers, directors and animators, working alone, all came to the same conclusion. (Notably absent from the party this year is the cast branch, which didn’t even acknowledge Renate Reinsve’s bright performance in The worst person in the world; while actors remain the Academy’s largest voting bloc, their influence has been reduced by the Academy’s recent membership drive, which has disproportionately increased numbers in areas like documentary, animation, visual effects, and short film.) It’s also worth noting that this year’s Oscars had the highest turnout ever among its nearly 10,000 members, which particularly goes to show that it’s simply what the Academy is today.
[Read: Parasite’s Victory Means It’s Time to Take the Oscars Seriously]
Even before its recent internationalist bent, the Academy had begun to show a pronounced—and often criticized—preference for small-scale character dramas over big-budget spectacles. But the Oscars haven’t changed; movies have. Forty years ago, the Best Picture Oscar was often awarded to simple national melodramas like Ordinary people Where rain man. The difference is that people went to see them. If you convert rain manfrom $355 million to 2019 dollars – using the last year of the pre-pandemic box office as a comparison – the film would have ranked fourth worldwide, between Frozen 2 and Spider-Man: Far From Home. The only film in this year’s top 10 to earn a Best Picture nomination was Joker. The next box office nominee ranked 22n/a.
See again drive my car, The worst person in the worldand To flee after the nominations, I was struck by their banality, not at the level of their production, which is truly exceptional, but of their subject. drive my car is about a man coming to terms with the death of his wife and a marriage that was dying long before that; The worst person in the world is about a woman in her early thirties trying to figure out what to do with her life; To flee is a memoir about an Afghan refugee facing the pain of exile and the struggle to come out of the closet. They don’t impose masterpieces from familiar industry figures, like Romeor box office hits from branded authors, like Parasite. They’re just movies about life, the kind that Hollywood generally refuses to make. (Their closest English equivalent among the nominees, CODAwas made outside the studio system, distributed by a streaming platform, and remade from a French film – and that much of the dialogue is in ASL.) The worst person in the world may feature a sequence in which the heroine trips over mushrooms and smears menstrual blood on her face, but it’s hard to think of characters from an American film of the last year more recognizable than Julie de Reinsve and Aksel d ‘Anders Danielsen Lie. They are, to use one of Hollywood’s favorite words, relatable. If you wanted to explain to someone two decades from now what life was like in 2021, you wouldn’t show them Dunes Where alley of nightmares– you would show them the The worst person in the world Where drive my carand not just because both movies end with epilogues that stretch into the COVID era.
The 2022 Oscar nominations testify to a vision without borders, or at least a vision in which these borders – between nations, between artistic traditions, between categories – are permeable and constantly changing. But they also make a firm, if more subtle, statement that movies should be about how people watch them live their lives — or at least some of them should. Reflecting real life isn’t the only thing movies can do (and that goes for documentaries as well as fiction), but it’s been one of their highest callings, and has been since the day the Lumière brothers installed a camera to watch the workers leave their factory. And if they have to go to Japan or Norway to find stories that resemble life, even American life, then that’s what the Oscars will do.
Correction, February 11, 2022: This article originally incorrectly stated that two women were nominated for Best Director this year. Jane Campion is the only woman nominated.