Or look to BAFTA, considered the British equivalent of the Oscars, and the group’s “longlists” for each category released last week. Spike Lee’s Vietnam-vet drama “Da 5 Bloods” landed on nine of those longlists — including best film, screenplay, and editing — but Lee was pointedly left out of the group of 20 filmmakers nominated for best director. (If BAFTA voters were trying to send a message to Lee, did they realize the rest of the world was BCC’d?)
You could even look to last year, when “Parasite” made Oscar history as the first film not in the English language to win best picture, but couldn’t earn a single nomination in the acting categories. Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen, hailing from a critics’ favorite, “The Farewell,” were similarly snubbed by the academy, and those exclusions led Vulture’s E. Alex Jung to write about “an old prejudice at work here that sees Asian people as technical workers.”
That’s why Jung felt that filmmakers like Bong Joon Ho and Ang Lee could win Oscars while the actors from their films were wholly overlooked, and it’s why I wonder about the ultimate fate of the forthcoming “Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung’s moving family drama starring Steven Yeun, Yeri Han and Yuh-Jung Youn. Even though a Korean movie has now won best picture at the Oscars, no Korean or Korean-American actor has ever so much as been nominated. Can the actors of “Minari” break through those long-held biases?
Things look more promising at the Independent Spirit Awards, where “Minari” scored three acting nominations and was recognized in the screenplay, director and best-feature categories, too. At this ceremony, which will be held days before the Oscars in April, the feature and director categories are exclusively made up of nominated movies directed by women and people of color.
But is that a road map for the academy to follow as it enacts new diversity guidelines, or is it a reminder of the limits that have already plagued this industry for far too long? To be eligible for the Independent Spirits, a movie must be made for less than $22.5 million. During awards season, directors from underrepresented groups are rarely working with much more.
Zhao, King and Fennell may still make this year’s Oscar lineup, but what will happen next year, when even more expensive movies like Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” re-enter the fray? Those films had the luxury of waiting out the pandemic for a more advantageous theatrical release, and the best-director category could easily tilt back toward the sort of auteur-driven spectacle that men dominate and nominate.