Four days ago, the newly inaugurated US president Donald Trump stood at the US Capitol and painted, with many false strokes, a decidedly bleak picture of America. The country he now leads, as he described it, is ridden with crime, drugs, and gangs, languishing in a state of “American carnage.”
But Hollywood, for all its alleged elitism, painted a very different picture of America in 2016, and this morning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences validated that vision when it announced the 2017 Oscar nominations—a diverse slate of films that actually look and sound like the country where most of them were made.
The best picture nominees, in particular, are stories about people from a broad range of classes, and regions, and races, whose diverse occupations, concerns, and lifestyles tell the story of America far better than the president did. Here they are:
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Hell or High Water
- Hidden Figures
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
These movies took place in the plains of West Texas, working-class Massachusetts, 1950s Pittsburgh, and modern Miami (and many of them were filmed in the locales they depict). They tell the tales of soldiers and scientists, janitors, dreamers, and righteous bank robbers.
Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson summed it up well on Twitter:
Of course, the nominations were far from perfect, and several minority groups are still fighting for their stories to be seen by an American moviegoing public that has mostly ignored them. But a year after #OscarsSoWhite, when not a single non-white person was nominated for an acting award, Hollywood honored films, filmmakers, and actors that more closely reflected America’s diversity.
Seven non-white actors were nominated, including six black actors and one of Indian descent (Dev Patel, Lion). A black director (Barry Jenkins, Moonlight) was nominated for only the fourth time ever and the first time since 2013. And a black cinematographer (Bradford Young, Arrival) was nominated for just the second time in Oscars history.
Throughout the 2016 presidential election, Hollywood was criticized by its opponents for seeming out of touch with ordinary people and choosing to only tell stories about the “coastal elites” in major cities at the expense of “real Americans.” In her Golden Globes speech, Meryl Streep took aim at this notion, saying that “an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like.”
And still, her speech was met with scorn by Hollywood’s adversaries, including the president himself, who called the legendary actress “over-rated” in one of his early morning Tweetstorms.
Sure, Hollywood is plagued with bouts of arrogance and self-adulation, and has a lot more work to do to become a truly inclusive industry. The important work of #OscarsSoWhite and other similar campaigns doesn’t end here, and a diverse slate of nominees in 2017—relative to last year’s unacceptable list, at least—doesn’t change the fact that many groups’ stories are still greatly undervalued.
But you can’t look at this year’s nominees for best picture and say that “real American” lives aren’t being portrayed. For one day, at least, we can celebrate a film industry that’s trying to be better.
Here were some of the other story lines emerging from the Academy’s Oscar nominations announcement:
- La La Land led the field with a record-tying 14 nominations, because Hollywood still loves a story about itself.
- Amazon became the first streaming distributor to be nominated for best picture for Manchester by the Sea, which it acquired at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
- The snubs: Amy Adams for Arrival, Weiner for best documentary, and not much love for Loving or Silence.
- Mel Gibson was unexpectedly nominated for best director for his film, Hacksaw Ridge.