The Willful Ignorance of the Oscars

It’s officially Oscar season. If you’re looking for a list of the nominees, check out the Hollywood Reporter’s full list here. Take a minute to look and you’ll notice something. Not #oscarssowhite, keep looking: some of the best films of the year are missing from the Academy’s core awards.

oscar-2019.jpg

It’s difficult, but possible, to deal with snubs like Eighth Grade and Mid90s. It’s harder to know that Ethan Hawke won’t receive due credit for his revelatory performance in First Reformed, but what’s truly impossible to comprehend is the lack of attention to female directors and writers. Lynne Ramsay, Zoe Kazan, Tamara Jenkins, Josephine Decker: all shut out of attention at the biggest film awards show of the year. It shouldn’t need explaining, but the Oscars ought to spread the word on lesser known films, and give due diligence to all corners of the industry. Nominating Bohemian Rhapsody, Black Panther, and Green Book for best picture isn’t only a repeated mistake in the name of relevancy, it’s a signal for what’s to come. But instead of hearing it from me, here’s Ethan Hawke putting it absolutely perfectly:

sxsw-3-13-first-reformed-3-ethan-hawke-paul-schrader.jpg
There already is a popular Oscar. It’s such a dumb thing to say. The popular Oscar is called the box office...They’re mad they don’t get prizes. You know, well-guess what, dude? Your car is your prize. Those of us who don’t have a car need a prize.
— Ethan Hawke

Paul Schrader doesn’t need a prize, and neither does Ethan Hawke. Both are visionaries who have been recognized before, and they will be again (especially if this happens). Directors who’s films require exposure need and deserve what the Academy can offer. Rather than award the films the masses agree are good, why not highlight the films that don’t receive as much cash? This isn’t about checking boxes or filling a quota: the Academy has already done that with Black Panther, a painfully obvious attempt at winning over those who have chastised them in the past for a lack of black recognition. If they wanted to do it right, Widows would have gotten a best picture nomination. But I digress. There is a pattern of willful ignorance to various incredible films in 2018 that were directed by women, which prompts the question: If not now, when?

1200px-Tamara_Jenkins_2013.jpg

Tamara Jenkins’s Private Life tore down boundaries, brought new ideas to life, and delivered one hell of a performance from Kathryn Hahn. It’s not just a fantastic “female directed” movie, it’s one of the best of the year. Judging the quality of a film based on the gender of the person who made it is ridiculous, so don’t expect us to acknowledge it from here on out, but it’s important to know where the industry’s head is at. Or, more accurately, where it isn’t at. Will we look back on Bohemian Rhapsody’s nomination and see it as the beginning of the end for the Academy Awards?

Unknown-8.jpeg

Lynne Ramsay’s 2018 film was a culmination, a deeply moving story told with the most graceful editing and acting. It’s inseparable from its director, and like Private Life, it’s one of the best films of 2018. Maybe even the best, depending on who you ask. I winced when I realized the Oscars weren’t going to acknowledge it, not even a best actor nomination for Joaquin Phoenix, which would have been a heavy concession. If Lynne Ramsay never made another film, we could all be happy with the dense masterpiece of You Were Never Really Here, in all its cerebral and brutalistic glory. Instead, the argument will be whether or not Green Book deserved to win Best Picture, or if Rami Malek should have won Best Actor over Bradley Cooper (not a slight on Bradley, he’s great).

To be considered and rejected is one thing, but to be left out completely is another conversation. When it happens that women directed and wrote the best films of the year (Zoe Kazan, who co-wrote Wildlife with Paul Dano) and they receive no nominations, there is something seriously wrong with the judges. By giving attention to larger and safer films like Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the Academy effectively tells us they’re not interested in experimental women. At least not those who challenge what the medium can be (You Were Never Really Here), or tell stories so rich with emotion they could be explored for decades (Madeline’s Madeline, Private Life). It’s willful ignorance, and it can’t be fixed easily. Nominating a female-centric movie like Ghostbusters is not the solution, the same way it isn’t for Black Panther and the black community. The solution is Blackkklansman, and Wildlife, and Widows, and First Reformed. The Academy continues to solve its diversity problems by nominating films of the lowest common denominator, rather than the works of art that continue to release each year. Women should not be appeased, but rewarded for their hard work the same way Yorgos Lanthimos and Adam McKay will be. This is film, not gender studies, so it’s a wonder the Academy can’t seem to understand that a director’s gender does not determine their film’s quality.