The 91st Academy Award nominations delivered the expected and unexpected, with a strong showing for African-American artists, who were nominated in 10 out of 24 categories, matching totals achieved in 2016 and 2017.
“Every year, further steps are taken towards inclusion, but obviously more needs to be done to support women filmmakers,” says Gil Robertson, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Assn. (AAFCA), referring to the fact that no female helmers were cited for feature film work in 2018 at the Oscars. However, Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” was nominated in the foreign-language race. Docu directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West were nommed for “RBG.” The AAFCA was formed in 2003, and includes 53 members nationwide, all of whom vote at the end of the year for their own awards program, this year selecting “Black Panther” as top choice.
“We’re ecstatic that ‘Black Panther’ has received a best picture nomination from the Academy. It’s a culturally historic moment for moviegoers and for the genre,” Robertson says.
It’s the second time that three African-Americans (Spike Lee & Kevin Willmott for “BlacKkKlansman,” and Barry Jenkins for “If Beale Street Could Talk”) were nominated for adapted screenplay in the same year, while Hannah Beachler (“Black Panther”) became the first African-American to be nominated for production design. Peter Ramsey, who co-directed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the first African-American to be nominated for animated feature, and costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who has two previous nominations for her work on “Malcolm X” and “Amistad,” received recognition for her gorgeous and evocative work on “Black Panther.”
“Black Panther” also received nominations for song (“All the Stars”) as well as original score, a category that also features “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “BlacKkKlansman.” And in the documentary feature category, African-American RaMell Ross’ “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” and Asian-American Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap,” were nominated. Both have African-American characters and themes.
Surprisingly, iconic filmmaker Lee is receiving his first-ever directing nomination, for his blistering efforts on “BlacKkKlansman,” while also becoming only the second African-American to be honored with three nominations in the same year (picture, director and adapted screenplay).
“It’s too insane to try and comprehend the idea that Spike Lee has never been nominated for best director at the Oscars,” says AAFCA co-founder Shawn Edwards, who also serves as film critic for Fox 4 News in Kansas City. “He’s had a major influence on younger generations of filmmakers, and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ is one of the best films of his career. I’m so happy for him.”
And with “Green Book” recently winning the PGA’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award for best theatrical motion picture, the Academy momentum seems to favor Peter Farrelly’s race-relations dramedy, which has many hallmarks of a traditional best picture choice, despite the recent dings it has received in the media. Co-star Mahershala Ali was also cited for his sensitive and commanding work in the supporting actor category.
“I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Green Book’ even if it was a bit too formulaic. It’s an old-school Hollywood melodrama and it works on those terms,” says Edwards. “Much if not all of the controversy surrounding ‘Green Book’ has been manufactured. Remember that one of the most powerful African-American women in the industry, Octavia Spencer, is an executive producer on the film.”
Regina King’s forceful performance in “If Beale Street Could Talk” earned her a supporting actress nom, with many calling her the favorite.
“Thank God Regina King got acknowledged,” says Carla Renata, who goes by The Curvy Critic, and is an AAFCA member and contributor to Black Hollywood Love and AfterbuzzTV, with her reviews aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes. “She represents every mother, godmother and aunt who has held a family together, and it’s a wonderful performance. Black love was expressed on-screen in a way in ‘Beale Street’ that I’ve never seen before.”
That no African-Americans were nominated in the lead acting categories is something that speaks more to opportunities at a casting and scripting level, and less about the overall quality of available performances. There’s also the issue of Oscar campaigning and the politics that enter into the fray with that entire process, with certain films not receiving the bump that might take them to the next level of consciousness with voters.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s a game that needs to be played during awards season,” says Renata.
“It should always focus on the work that’s up on the screen, and sometimes certain films
just don’t have the resources to compete.”