Academy Award nominations highlight impact of #MeToo movement, remaining need for progress

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences/Courtesy

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On Jan. 23, Oscar nominations were announced to — almost shockingly — general satisfaction. After decades of male-dominated nominations, as well as the rise of #OscarsSoWhite after only white lead and supporting actors were nominated in 2015 and 2016, it seemed as though the films of 2017 — and their prioritizations of female and nonwhite narratives — were being justly recognized.

On “The Late Show” that night, Stephen Colbert was one of many who noted the idea that this year’s nominations comprise the first impact by the #MeToo movement on the ceremony. He quipped: “So, a fairly diverse group of very deserving artists, but I’ve got this well of award angry that I’ve got to focus at something.”

After all, most of the nominees were largely agreed upon as deserving award contenders. The narrative of this year’s nominations has shifted from snubs towards a reflection of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ gradual embrace of and emphasis on the necessity of progress for women in Hollywood.

Ultimately, the nominations reflect the impact of the #MeToo movement and initiatives such as the “Time’s Up” campaign in shedding light on areas for improvement in gender equity throughout Hollywood. Awards season is thus being used as one key platform for furthering the movement’s visibility.

Earlier last month, the Golden Globes brought celebrities’ role in the movement to the forefront — several A-listers were seen walking the red carpet in all-black clothing. Others wore small pins with the “Time’s Up” logo, referencing the sexual assault and harassment prevention initiative and legal defense fund launched by women in the entertainment industry, including Shonda Rhimes and Reese Witherspoon.

With its nominations, the academy made several implicit statements which highlighted women’s issues — from the importance of recognizing and addressing sexual misconduct to the representational significance of acknowledging female talent in the industry.

For example, Christopher Plummer — who replaced Kevin Spacey in “All the Money in the World” after the emergence of allegations accusing Spacey of sexual misconduct — landed a Best Supporting Actor nomination, though he was a last-minute replacement. While there is no way of knowing whether Plummer’s nomination is related to Spacey’s removal, the nomination nevertheless holds emblematic weight. Artists and performers who, in some capacity, reclaim screen power from those who commit acts of sexual misconduct deserve to be acknowledged.

A missing Best Actor nod for James Franco — whose performance in the acclaimed “The Disaster Artist” garnered him a Golden Globe — may not immediately come across as a purposeful example of the academy’s recognition of the need for change, since accusations of sexual harassment surfaced so close to the voting deadline. But it does, at least symbolically, disrupt the narrative of powerful men in Hollywood proceeding to gain recognition despite sexual assault and harassment allegations — a welcome change in the aftermath of Casey Affleck’s Best Actor win last year.

The nominations reflect a move towards valuing genuine, intricate stories centered around women. The academy’s recognition of films such as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” featuring Frances McDormand’s powerful, complex portrayal of a woman seeking justice for her daughter’s murder, and “Lady Bird,” the radiant coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan, is a reassuring step towards transforming stories which centralize women’s lives into a cinematic norm.

“Lady Bird” itself is a point of celebration for its director, Greta Gerwig. Gerwig received nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Director — and became only the fifth woman to receive the latter nomination.

Perhaps the most historic achievement in this year’s nominations is that of cinematographer Rachel Morrison, the first female nominee for Best Cinematography, for her work on the Netflix drama “Mudbound.” Director Dee Rees recently noted in Variety’s “Playback” podcast, “I’m glad that people are recognizing the craft of it and not making decisions based on tokenism; Rachel’s work is on the screen.” The nomination is a testament to the necessity of employing talented female artists behind the camera. These artists succeed in their crafts to the same degree as their male professional counterparts without receiving their due recognition.

While the academy showcased its gradual embrace of representation and craft in film this year, the nominations still highlight a lasting need for improvement.

Although Gerwig garnered Best Picture and Director nominations for “Lady Bird,” the playing field for both categories is undoubtedly male-dominated. The fact remains that not a single woman of color has ever been nominated in the Best Director field, though several acclaimed films have been directed by women of color — including Ava DuVernay’s Best Picture-nominated “Selma.”

Yes, the nominations are cause for celebration in Hollywood, but this celebration cannot occur without the necessary acknowledgement that there is still a need for change. In a time when the #MeToo movement is rising in visibility, we cannot allow the nominations to distract us from Hollywood’s prolonged patriarchal complacency. There’s still work to be done.

Anagha Komaragiri covers film. Contact her at [email protected].org.