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90th Oscars Prove that Representation Has Long Path Ahead

Jimmy Kimmel hosted the 90th Academy Awards.

Hollywood was just starting to learn its lesson in time for the landmark 90th Academy Awards. However, two years after #OscarsSoWhite, it’s clear that they’re not done contending with biases in the entertainment industry just yet. With a flood of sexual harassment allegations, the #MeToo movement gave voices to women not only across the field, but across the country. This movement is another seismic shift in an industry that has been controlled by powerful, white men for far too long.

The Oscars provided a glimpse of the beautiful future the film industry will hopefully one day enjoy, featuring many historic firsts and landmarks for underrepresented groups. Greta Gerwig, writer and director of “Lady Bird,” became the fifth woman to be nominated for Best Director while Rachel Morrison, director of photography for “Mudbound,” became the first woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography in the history of the Academy. The writer and director of “Mudbound,” Dee Rees, became the first black woman to be nominated for best adapted screenplay and Jordan Peele was the first black filmmaker to be nominated for writing, directing, and producing in the same year for “Get Out.” Peele also took home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Finally, Yance Ford, director of “Strong Island,” became the first openly transgender director nominated as well as the first transgender man to be nominated for any Oscar. That being said, the failure of most of these nominees to win in their categories, with the exception of Jordan Peele’s win for Original Screenplay, demonstrates that the Academy still has a long road ahead in terms of honoring diversity in the film industry.

The 90th Academy Awards also continued last year’s trend of recognizing films that in previous years would likely have not been nominated (“Moonlight,” Barry Jenkins’ monumental and complex story of black gay male identity). With a younger and more diverse Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, untraditional films like “The Shape of Water,” “Lady Bird,” “Get Out,” and “Call Me By Your Name” were nominated over traditional Oscar-bait blockbusters as in years past, like last year’s last year’s “Lion” or Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Revenant.” “Get Out” and “Call Me By Your Name” took the Screenplay awards, Original and Adapted respectively.

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“The Shape of Water” led the pack with 13 nominations, taking home four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director for Guillermo del Toro, Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat, and Best Production Design. Quite honestly, “The Shape of Water” never should have won Best Picture, let alone received a nomination for the top prize. The problem with the film isn’t the fantasy elements involved or even the fish sex—it’s del Toro’s failure to create an original, compelling script with scene-stealing characters who the audience can fall in love with. The problem lies in del Toro’s over-ambition in his attempt to combine a compelling script (which isn’t compelling at all) with a cast of two-dimensional characters. While I praise del Toro for including a diverse array of characters, he doesn’t spend enough time fleshing out their personalities, leaving characters that are defined by what makes them different rather than their actions and true selves. It just didn’t work. The only Oscar that “The Shape of Water” should have walked away with is Best Production Design. Christopher Nolan should have won Best Director, Jonny Greenwood was robbed of Best Original Score for the beautiful strings in “Phantom Thread,” and any other movie would have been a better choice for Best Picture. In fact, “The Florida Project” should have taken the place of “The Shape of Water” as a nominee—director Sean Baker outdid himself with his unflinching look at modern poverty at a hotel outside the fringes of Disney World. Compassionate and heartbreaking all at once, “The Florida Project” was one of the best films of the year.

However, we must acknowledge that, while Hollywood still has a long way to go, it has started to change. A fantasy film that centers around the relationship between a mute female janitor and a fish monster, “The Shape of Water” is the type of movie that rarely gets recognition from the Academy. Fantasy films are often considered too niche or too obscure for Oscars recognition, but “The Shape of Water” demonstrates a possible shift in the Academy’s beliefs.

The Academy’s attempt to reward representation seemed at odds with a stunt that host Jimmy Kimmel staged halfway through the show. Like last year, when Kimmel brought a Hollywood tour group inside the Dolby Theatre, he attempted again to include the everyday citizen. This time, Kimmel and a slew of actors and filmmakers including Armie Hammer, Guillermo del Toro, Margot Robbie, Ansel Elgort, and Emily Blunt crashed an early screening of “A Wrinkle in Time” at the TCL Chinese Theater next door. While the audience may have been ecstatic to meet some of Hollywood’s stars, some may have been upset to have their early screening cut into. Though it may have been an attempt to bridge the gap between audiences and celebrities, the whole ordeal played off as a patronizing stunt, parading the Hollywood celebrities in front of an audience with the assumption that the latter would relish the opportunity to be in the presence of elite. At a time of growing disparity between Oscar nominated films and the highest grossing movies of each year, Kimmel’s stunt was a cheap attempt to connect audiences to the Oscars.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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