On Jan. 24, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences announced the 2017 Oscar nominations. With a staggering 14 nominations, “La La Land” tied with “Titanic” and “All About Eve,” for most nominations for one film. If history holds any weight, there is a chance that the film will walk away with a good percentage of these awards. However, this year marks an important shift towards inclusivity with several historical nominations going towards African American filmmakers and actors.
Over the past two years, the Academy has been criticized for only giving recognition to white actors and actresses. The popular hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, inspired a boycott in Hollywood where much of Hollywood’s black elite openly criticized the organization and refused to attend the ceremony. This year however, with films like “Moonlight,” “Fences” and “Hidden Figures,” the Oscars are making an effort to resolve the controversy.
The nominations are selected by over 700 Academy members and are meant to honor the best work being done in American and foreign cinema. This year showed a dramatic increase in the number of filmmakers of color becoming Academy members. For example, directors like Julie Dash and Dee Rees, who have been at the vanguard of contemporary black and queer cinema, will have a say in who takes home a gold statue. By diversifying the selection team, deserved recognition has been given to non-white filmmakers and actors.
Regardless, “La La Land” is anticipated to win in many of the major categories (like it did at the Golden Globes this January). Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the film was initially met with lukewarm reviews, causing critics and movie-goers to scratch their heads at the film’s landslide success at awards ceremonies. We live in a politically-charged and difficult time, and with its song, dance and Hollywood gorgeousness, “La La Land” is a perfect escape from Trump’s America—especially for white Americans.
Hollywood has always had a finger on the pulse of politics and social movements. During the Depression, disenfranchised cinema-goers saw “The Wizard of Oz.” The black-and-white to technicolor adventure removed struggling Americans from their dire situations and allowed them to escape the economic turmoil of the time. For Trump’s America, a happy comedy of love and glamour is just what we need to escape the stress and fear of our political climate. When things are difficult in the world around us, citizens seek refuge in the screening room where they are transported into dream-like fantasies of a better life.
On the other hand, “Moonlight” poses some serious competition for the song and dance of “La La Land.” Based on the play, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue”, the film follows Chiron, a young black man, as he matures from childhood to adulthood in a rough neighborhood in the South. Not only were a few members of the cast nominated in the acting categories, but many of the collaborators of the film are also making history with their nominations. For example, editor Joi McMillon is the first black woman to be nominated for Best Editing.
It’s hard to predict who will win what when it comes to these awards shows, but it’s definitely going to come down to either “La La Land” or “Moonlight” for Best Picture. And this decision will be a good reflection of where we are in terms of representation in Hollywood. We still have a lot to fight for in terms of bringing the marginalized to the forefront. But as a viewer, it’s important to search for and treasure films like “Moonlight” that push back on the establishment of Hollywood and uplift the audience through the art of storytelling—in this case, a scarcely told queer black narrative. The best way to have a say in which films get recognition is to go out and see the films that excite you and represent you.
The Academy Awards will be broadcast on Feb. 26 and will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.