Martinez: Oscars continue to miss the mark

Marissa Martinez, Assistant Opinion Editor

“Get Out” was almost never made.

That’s what Jordan Peele said during his acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay during the Oscars on Sunday. He said he almost stopped writing 20 times because it was such a hard film to create. But Peele kept at it and created a thought-provoking piece that examined race and gender in a novel way.

In a genre with a stereotype of consistently killing off people of color first, it was so refreshing to see a horror movie that featured positive black characters succeeding against both literal and symbolic obstacles. As soon as I saw the movie, my perspective on what social thrillers can do for society was forever changed. I was so happy to hear that it had been nominated for Best Picture.

Yet many voting members in the academy didn’t bother to appreciate Peele’s talent beyond writing because they apparently couldn’t deem the thriller worthy of Best Picture. The world will never know if “Get Out” would have won if every voter had taken the 1 hour and 44 minutes out of their day to properly evaluate the film. Even if “The Shape of Water” still ended up bringing home the biggest award for the night, at least it would have been fair game.

This speaks to a larger problem with the Oscars — “Get Out” was indeed nominated for Best Picture, among three other awards, which is a step in the right direction, but was ultimately snubbed by those who needed to see it most. The fact that moviemakers still have to fight to get their films recognized by academy voters is incredibly disheartening, especially when it seemed like representative pieces were finally gaining traction in Hollywood.

After three years of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, nominations for a wider range of racially diverse actors have slowly increased. Actors of color Daniel Kaluuya and Denzel Washington were nominated for their leading roles, while Octavia Spencer and Mary J. Blige were nominated for their supporting roles in “The Shape of Water” and “Mudbound.”

There were other triumphs behind the camera as well: Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” won three additional awards including Best Director. “Coco” won Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song, giving Robert Lopez a double EGOT (when a person wins an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). Kobe Bryant even won an Oscar for his work on the animated short film “Dear Basketball.”

Despite these notable achievements, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of recognizing a lack of diversity everywhere, for all marginalized communities. Emma Stone, for example, introduced the Best Director category by pointing out that Greta Gerwig was the only female nominee — even though two men of color, del Toro and Peele, had surpassed several obstacles to produce their own movies. Overall, there was very little Asian, Latinx and Indigenous representation in the academy’s nominations — and that issue continued with several other target identity groups.

Hollywood is currently at a precipice — a big upheaval of major figures occurred following the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, combined with the continuation of #OscarsSoWhite. Clearly, there is a high demand for stories driven by diversity and equality in all facets of film. Audiences want it, and actors and moviemakers want it, but it does not seem that many elite producers and executives want to curate this equity in the same vein. Nominators publicly refusing to watch “Get Out” — a movie with a current 99 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating — illustrates that perfectly.

There is some hope. At the end of her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Frances McDormand mentioned the phrase “inclusion rider.” This is a clause actors can ask for in their contracts that would require both cast and crew members on a film to meet a certain level of diversity to advance the movie. In addition, strides have been made for LGTBQ-centered stories, casts and crews with nominations for films like “Call Me By Your Name,” “Mudbound” and Chilean film, “A Fantastic Woman” — although there is definitely room for improvement.

The Oscars and other cinematic awards may not mean much for a film in the long run: As history shows, there are always a few questionable or unfair choices made every season. Awards, however, are the first step in recognizing mainstream talent. The academy needs to continue down this track of supporting and uplifting representative and diverse films, thus legitimizing the fight for inclusivity.

Marissa Martinez is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.