No dearth of diversity in Oscar noms

By Jake Coyle

AP Film Writer

History, both recent and ancient, was made across Tuesday’s 89th annual Academy Awards nominations, where the retro musical “La La Land” reaped a record-tying 14 nominations and a wave of African-American films, led by the luminous coming-of-age portrait “Moonlight,” resoundingly toppled two straight years of “so white” Oscars.

The twin forces — Damien Chazelle’s candy-colored love letter to musicals and a broad group of diverse films that also included Denzel Washington’s fiery August Wilson adaption “Fences” and the uplifting African-American mathematician tale “Hidden Figures” — dominated the nominations .

The 14 nods for “La La Land,” including best picture, best actress for Emma Stone, best actor for Ryan Gosling and best director for Chazelle, matched the record hauls of 1997’s “Titanic” and 1950’s “All About Eve.” A disoriented Chazelle, speaking by phone from Beijing, said, “All that I have in my head is ‘thank you’ a million times over.”

Also a record: the six black actors nominated, including “Fences” stars Washington and Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris of “Moonlight,” Ruth Negga of “Loving” and Octavia Spencer of “Hidden Figures.” Dev Patel, the British-Indian star of “Lion,” was also nominated, making it seven actors of color nominated out of 20.

It made for a stark contrast to the last two years of all-white acting nominees, a disparity that prompted widespread outrage throughout the film industry and led academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs to revamp the academy’s membership.

Jenkins, who was nominated for directing and adapted screenplay, said the eight nominations for “Moonlight” and those for other films showed that people were eager to put themselves in the shoes of others. “Moonlight,” ”Fences” and “Hidden Figures” were each nominated for best picture.

“I love the American film industry and to see it this year, I feel, really reflect the world that we all live and work in, it gives me hope,” Jenkins said by phone from Amsterdam. “It heartens me. There’s a lot of work being done to make this year not be an anomaly.”

Nine films out of a possible ten were nominated for best picture. The others were: Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral alien thriller “Arrival,” Kenneth Lonergan’s New England family drama “Manchester by the Sea,” the West Texas heist thriller “Hell or High Water,” the  “Lion,” and Mel Gibson’s World War II drama “Hacksaw Ridge.”

Redemption was everywhere: for a previously diversity-deficient Oscars, for the old-fashioned musical and even for the long-shunned Gibson. Days after the birth of his ninth child, the “Hacksaw Ridge” director was also unexpectedly nominated for best director over the likes of Martin Scorsese (“Silence”) and Clint Eastwood (“Sully”). The nods seemed to restore his stature in Hollywood since an anti-Semitic tirade while being arrested for drunk driving in 2006 and a 2011 conviction for domestic violence.

“I think finally people are remembering who Mel actually is, not what the tabloids (said),” said Andrew Garfield, who was nominated for his lead performance in the film. “I’m so, so proud of him.

“Arrival” tied “Moonlight” for the second most nominees with eight nods. Yet its five-time nominated star, Amy Adams, was left out of the competitive best actress category.

Instead, Meryl Streep, whom President Donald Trump recently derided as “overrated,” landed her 20th nomination. Her performance in “Florence Foster Jenkins” was among the best actress nominees that included Stone, Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Ruth Negga (“Loving”) and Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”). Also left out was Annette Bening for “20th Century Women.”

Best-actor favorite Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) was joined by Washington, Gosling, Garfield and Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”). Along with Ali and Patel, the best supporting actor nominees were Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”), Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”) and Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”).

Viola Davis, the supporting-actress front-runner for her performance in “Fences,” notched her third Oscar nod. Also nominated were Harris, Spencer, Nicole Kidman (“Lion”) and Michelle Williams (“Manchester by the Sea”).

Whether fairly or not, the nominations were taken as a test for the overhauled film academy. The inclusion influx, though, wasn’t driven by any kind of response to the last two Oscars; most of the nominated films have been in development for years.

And the awards still left many unrepresented. No female filmmakers were nominated for best director and outside of the EGOT-approaching Lin-Manuel Miranda (up for his song to “Moana”), Latinos were nearly absent .

Still, change was seen all through the Oscar categories, nowhere more so than in best documentary. Four black directors led nominees: Ava DuVernay (“The 13th”), Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”), Ezra Edelman (the seven-plus hours “O.J.: Made in America”) and Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated”). (The other nominee was the European migrant documentary “Fire at Sea.”)

“Now more than ever it is important to educate ourselves, explore our shared history and elevate our awareness about matters of human dignity,” DuVernay, whose film is about historical connections between slavery and mass incarceration, said in a statement.

Joi McMillon, who edited “Moonlight” with Nat Sanders, became the first African-American woman nominated for best editing. Bradford Young of “Arrival” was just the second black cinematographer nominated. Kimberly Steward, who financed “Manchester by the Sea,” became the second African-American producer to land a best-picture nomination after Oprah Winfrey.

Though “La La Land,” ”Arrival” and “Hidden Figures” are knocking on the door of $100 million at the North American box office, none of the best-picture nominees have yet crossed that threshold, making this year’s best picture nominees one of the lowest grossing bunch ever.

“Deadpool,” this season’s underdog, and the year’s no. 2 box-office hit, “Finding Dory,” were shut out. Only one major studio — Paramount, which distributed “Arrival” and “Fences” — scored a best-picture nomination.

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