Shape of Water oscars

2018 Oscar nomination firsts are a big deal, but diversity still has a long way to go

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Marc Bernardin
Jan 24, 2018

The nominations for the 90th Annual Academy Awards were announced yesterday and, as always occurs around this time of year in HotTakeopolis, the press was breathless with number-crunching, analyses and speculations.

Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water led the pack with 13 nominations, tied for the second-most ever. Lady Bird's Greta Gerwig and Get Out's Jordan Peele are the fifth woman and black person, respectively, to be nominated for Best Director. Will Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri be able to continue its momentum? Did sexual misconduct allegations cost The Disaster Artist's James Franco a nomination? Did Steven Spielberg get snubbed? What is a "snub" exactly, given that no one is guaranteed a nomination in this entirely whimsical endeavor?

Such things are the industry of awards season. So too is the newsworthiness of "firsts."

Peele is the first black filmmaker to be nominated for writing, producing, and directing. Dee Rees is the first black woman to be nominated, for Mudbound, in the Best Adapted Screenplay category — joining Logan, written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, the first superhero film to get a screenplay nomination. Rachel Morrison — who spent a big chunk of 2017 shooting Black Panther — became the first woman to be nominated for Best Cinematography, also for Mudbound.

A lot of firsts. I'm getting a little tired of firsts, honestly. Because, for as wonderful as it is to see history being made, it's a bittersweet reminder of how little history has been made.

Get Out oscar nom

Credit: Universal Pictures

In the 90 years Hollywood has seen fit to celebrate itself — first in private, then for the world to see — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been a notoriously conservative bunch. (Seems odd for a bunch of artists, but there is more "business" than "show.") Until recently, they've never been called upon to diversify their ranks or chastised for shining their light on people on the same people who have, historically, basked in the glow.

I've been watching the Oscars, professionally, for almost 25 years, and for "pleasure" for another 10. I can remember when, in 1993, Tom Hanks won for playing a gay man in Philadelphia (which kicked up a fuss it shouldn't have, given that actual LGBT people — both open and closeted — have been winning Oscars since the 1950s). I can remember the jubilation in 2001 when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won for Best Actress and Best Actor, for Monsters Ball and Training Day, the first time African Americans won those two Oscars in the same year — and Berry's being the first time a black performer ever won Best Actress. I was in a newsroom when Alfonso Cuaron became the first Latino to win Best Director for 2013's Gravity.

Shape of Water

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Now, I'm an old man, but I'm not that old. For these firsts to take place this deep into our pop cultural history isn't a good look. Never mind the firsts that have still yet to occur: A black woman has never been nominated for Best Director; a Latina has never won Best Actress (unless you count Hilary Swank, whose maternal grandmother was of Mexican-American descent, but Swank herself doesn't identify as a Latina, so we don't); an Asian performer has never won Best Actress (and only one has ever been nominated)… The list could go on for as long as you'd like it to.

Listen, for us nerds, it's great that the Oscar nominees are pretty nerdy: The Shape of Water, Get Out, Logan, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Blade Runner 2049, Coco, Baby Driver, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2., Kong: Skull Island, and War for the Planet of the Apes all got invited to the Big Dance.

But too many are only just getting invited to that dance. And we nerds are complex enough to care about more than one thing at a time.

Every year seems to bring a first, which is fantastic. Progress is great. But there are so many firsts left.