Why this year’s Oscar noms got it wrong and right for diversity
The Academy’s picks were a delight and a disappointment, says Hanna Flint. Here’s why we should focus on the wins
Saturday 28 January 2023 By Hanna Flint
It’s that time of the year again. The Oscar® nominations have been announced and there’s been more than a few delights and disappointments. Let me get a particular disappointment out of the way first, because it would be remiss of me not to lament the lack of recognition for Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis and the formidable blockbuster The Woman King. Or the complete disregard of Jordan Peele’s spectacular Nope. These were truly two of the best films of 2022, so you have to wonder why they were shut out of these sorts of competitions at the highest level.
But let me focus on the positives, because the Academy membership has managed to produce a fair number of magical nods to celebrate – mostly in the form of Everything Everywhere All At Once, a film that doesn’t fit the usual Oscars® darling template, but has garnered 11 nominations. Sci-fi, historically, hasn’t often received much recognition outside the technical categories. Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water was actually the first sci-fi film to win Best Picture, and what it has in common with David Kwan and David Scheinert’s multi-versal epic – which has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay – is a vulnerable, human core narrative steeped in romance, drama and the need for meaningful connections. It’s also delivered with a great sense of humour and through a strong female perspective.
Michelle Yeoh earning her first Oscar® nomination for this film – playing a Chinese immigrant laundromat owner facing a midlife crisis as she strives to prevent the collapse of the multiverse – has been a long time coming. Not just because she’s one of the best in the business whose ability to navigate drama and action has been a shining light on screen for 30 years now. I’m still salty she didn’t get a Best Actress nod for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She’s also the first East Asian actress to be nominated for the award. Her co-stars, Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu, have also been nominated in their respective categories, and Hong Chau joins Hsu in the supporting actress list for her stellar turn in The Whale. We’ve seen films like Minari and Parasite in recent years earn Oscar® recognition for their Asian casts and filmmakers, so the continued momentum towards better representation is worth cheering.
And I’ve got to show solidarity to the Irish contingent. An Cailín Ciúin/ The Quiet Girl is the first Irish-language film to ever be nominated at the Oscars®. ‘Never before has Irish-language art been given such a platform,’ writer-director Colm Bairéad and producer Cleona Ní Chrualaoi said in a statement. ‘This film has been an extraordinary labour of love and it has been a joy to see audiences the world over take it into their hearts.’ Maith dóibh!
Martin McDonaugh’s The Banshees of Inisherin picked up nine nominations with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan more than earning their acting nods. The film is a witty and brutal polemic on friendship, masculinity and community set against the backdrop of the Irish civil war, and every single one of those actors showed up. As did Paul Mescal in the gorgeous, understated Aftersun as a depressed young dad on holiday with his daughter. This film is definitely in my top 10 of daddy-daughter movies to rip my heart out, and Mescal’s subtle, deeply felt performance had me in bits. And seeing the Mescal family celebrate the news on a Zoom call with each other was another reminder of how important it is that people beyond the Hollywood establishment, who are making independent films and not just studio releases, get recognised during awards season.
The Oscar® spotlight, though imperfect, does drum up global awareness for marginalised films and filmmakers beyond the usual industry suspects. It shows the movie world that there is a far wider, more diverse pool of talent to invest in, and audiences that there are stories worth exploring outside their social and cultural bubble. So win or lose, take note of these nominations and maybe buy a few tickets into these imaginative cinematic worlds.
Moor to come
As Shakespeare plays go, Othello is one I’ve always found to be rather intriguing. It’s a tragedy that really grapples with racial division through a North African general and the Venetian kingdom he serves. There are many ways to present the eponymous hero given his Moorish heritage; ‘Moor’ was a name white Europeans gave to the Indigenous Imazighen inhabitants of the Maghrebi coast, then the Arabs who colonised the region, and there’s an argument that Shakespeare based Othello on a Moroccan ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I’s court.
In Clint Dyer’s electric National Theatre production that I caught last year, the tragic hero (Giles Terera) has been positioned as a once enslaved Black man who has risen up the ranks to become a formidable military man. Despite Othello’s success, a racial undercurrent throbs underneath social civility, and Dyer’s blunt racial commentary refuses to sanitise the prejudicial themes as Iago’s deplorable machinations play on the Moor’s outsider insecurities and lead to his downfall.
I also appreciate that Desdemona, Othello’s ill-fated white wife, is given more of a personality than previous iterations. She can be portrayed as a bit of a wet blanket, but here Rosy McEwen plays her with gusto, which makes the performance far more dynamic and frenetic to watch.
So, if you didn’t manage to get tickets, but are in the mood for some bard at his most dynamic and socially resonant, then you’re in luck: Othello was filmed live on the Lyttleton stage of the National Theatre and will be available to watch from 23 February.