RIDGELAND — The Oscar nominations were revealed last week, and there is renewed criticism that the Academy members neglect diversity when making selections.
Cynthia Erivo, an English actress of African descent, received a Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. She is the only minority performer so named. The exclusion of Jennifer Lopez for her role in “Hustlers” has surprised many. Asian American actress Awkwafina was also overlooked, despite her performance in “The Farewell.” Some say she just barely missed making the cut in a year when several actresses made strong showings.
Despite Awkwafina’s exclusion, charging the academy with race bias overlooks the fact that last year three of the Oscars for acting were awarded to minorities. Mahershala Ali and Regina King won for best supporting actor and actress, respectively, and deservedly so. I have no complaint over Rami Malek’s Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury, although I personally favored Viggo Mortensen. One thing for sure, each of these winners was chosen for the artistry of their performances, and not for reasons of affirmative action.
Entertainment critic Libby Torres provides the most political and ridiculous reasons why certain actors, directors and movies do not deserve their recent nominations. Her complaint over the numerous selections for “The Irishman” is that Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are Hollywood icons, as is the movie’s director, Martin Scorsese. In short, they already have awards, and so nominations should have gone to other actors and directors. Given my own last name, should I personally detect a bias against Italian-Americans on the part of Torres?
Torres further dismisses one of the year’s best and most realistic movies, “1917,” as an “overblown war epic.” What she really doesn’t like is that Sir Sam Mendes received a nomination for Best Director and Greta Gerwig, who directed “Little Women,” did not. Torres’ most risible argument is that Gerwig deserved the nomination because she presented an “engaging portrait of sisterhood and radical femininity.” What Gerwig presented was a poorly edited and sometimes confusing movie. That hardly suggests award-winning direction.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is not a state institution and is not required to adhere to Title IX, affirmative action or quota requirements. It is an honorary association dedicated to film as entertainment and as art. Some years, minority actors and female directors will receive more nominations and awards than in others. The selections of best actors and movies is subject more to the randomness of exceptional acting and directing. Last year, “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Green Book,” two excellent movies, provided opportunities for King and Ali to give stellar performances. This year, “Harriet” provided the same opportunity for Cynthia Erivo. Her stiffest competitor is Renee Zellweger, who portrayed Judy Garland in “Judy.” Whether or not Erivo wins the Oscar will depend on whether the voters believe she is the best of all those nominated in her category. The outcome is not an issue of social justice.
• Vincent J. Venturini is a part-time visiting professor in social work at Mississippi Valley State University. He lives in Ridgeland.