The Academy Awards exist to sell tickets, particularly for Hollywood movies. Which is why American studios and American movie stars dominate the event. There’s nothing particularly evil about that; every industry promotes itself. Movies cost megabucks to make, after all, and even people with the most artistic motives know that unless their films sell lots of popcorn the money will go away.
But the other force behind the Oscars is socio-political. The votes are cast by actors, directors, artists and technicians whose concerns stretch far beyond the biz side. So “Best Whatever” never simply means “greatest achievement” (most classic films were not chosen as “Best Pictures”). It means much, much more.
Take this year’s nominees: After years of attacks for not being diverse enough, Hollywood has licked its communal wounds and saturated its nominations with diversity. Yalitzia Aparicio is nominated for Best Actress, for example, not only because she’s very good in Roma, but because she is both Latino and from an indigenous tribe—a double diversity win. By contrast, Anglo movie stars like Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt, who also did outstanding work in 2018 (and have gotten lots of love at previous ceremonies), have been set aside to make room for more socially conscious choices.
However, just nominating Yalitzia Aparicio probably makes a strong enough statement to leave room for Glenn Close, a brilliant older white film star, to win. Why? Because she’s overdue, i.e. she’s been nominated a bajillion times, and never won—which is also a component in the multi-layered socio-political agenda.
And Spike Lee could very well receive the Best Director award, not only because he’s a terrific director, but because he’s also due (having been overlooked multiple times in the past), and because he is a person of color. Double diversity win. Alfonso Cuarón, director of Roma, is also Latino, btw, but Hollywood can check that diversity box by giving him the Best Original Screenplay and/or Cinematography award. Bingo.
Finally. Black Panther could win Best Picture, not only because it is, in fact, a terrific movie, but because it’s a previously unheard-of phenomenon: a big budget studio movie packed with African American talent, both on and off screen. Plus, the fans always gripe that popular movies never get enough award season love, and Marvel fans gripe that Marvel movies don’t get enough love. So BP would be a triple win! Pure politics? Not really, it’s an awesome movie. But the point is, it’s not simply about “Bests.” It is about…
A whole lot of other things.