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Culture Maven: Oscars 2020 Show Some Progress, But Not Enough

Giant Oscars
Danny Moloshock
Going for the gold: The Academy Awards nominations aren't always fair, but they do tend to fascinate.

The 92nd Academy Awards is Sunday, Feb. 9.

We don’t know if “Joker” will sweep all 11 of its nominations. We don’t know if Scarlett Johansson can win in both categories in which she’s been nominated (Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress). And we don’t know if going host-less again this year will pay off in better ratings for the awards show. 

But we do know which woman will most likely be awarded Best Director. 

Oh, wait. 

No woman will win Best Director because not one woman got nominated, and that has Shari Zeck, interim dean of Milner Library at Illinois State University and WGLT’s Culture Maven, seriously irked. 

“We’re seeing more and more women direct,” Zeck said. “And the only woman who has ever won an Oscar for directing was directing a pretty guy-oriented film.” 

(That’s Kathryn Bigelow for “Hurt Locker” in 2010.) 

“I think it is telling that still, in 2020, even with a higher number of female directors, we’re not seeing them represented in nominations," Zeck said.

Although Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” received a Best Picture nomination, Gerwig herself was passed over for a director nod. 

“I do think there’s a little bit of sexism in there. But it’s not just about the fact that she’s a woman director; it’s about the fact that it’s a female-driven film. The really exciting moment is when we will have a Best Picture nominee that is very much a female-driven film, that is directed by a woman and written by a woman, and all three of them get nominated. We’re not there yet,” Zeck ended with a grimace. 

A Hollywood cult of personality can contribute to this state of affairs, Zeck observed. “A certain degree of it, in that if Martin Scorsese directed a picture that year, he’s going to get nominated for an award. It tends to favor established artists, which is going to tend to favor white men.” 

However, Zeck does see a shift beginning to occur among Academy members. 

“It’s a younger crowd and we can see, in the acting nominees, for instance, a kind of clash between old standbys like Al Pacino and Kathy Bates and some of those folks. And then this younger crowd like Saoirse Ronan and Scarlett Johansson, I think we’re seeing in their nominations the influence of the young-ifying of the Academy voters, who still have a respect for the people who have had these incredibly long careers.” 

“I think the trend is that Academy members are getting younger. I don’t think they’re necessarily getting more female or less white.” 

Women directors weren't the only ones getting snubbed this year. 

“Let’s talk about 'The Irishman' for a second,” said Zeck. “First of all, I think Joe Pesci was great in that. He gave, far and away, one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time.” 

Pesci is up for Best Supporting Actor. But guess who didn’t get a nomination? 

“Where’s Robert DeNiro on this list?” Zeck demanded of a fickle universe. “Really? Can you imagine a film in which Robert DeNiro is the lead and he doesn’t get an acting nomination? But the two who are acting with him do? That’s astounding to me. That’s one of the things that got me thinking about the fact that the Academy is getting younger.” 

So, who may cop that gold guy for Best Actor? 

“Adam Driver is hot right now,” Zeck pointed out.  

Driver is nominated for “A Marriage Story.” And don’t forget he’s a major player in the Star Wars universe. 

“People do not want to give acting awards to people in Star Wars movies, but they sure run out to see the movies and they sure love ‘em. And this generation that we’re talking about has loved the Star Wars movies all their lives, as opposed to seeing them as a threat, as the Charleton Heston generation saw them.” 

“I still think of the Oscars as something you earn over a career, even if it’s given for a single performance. To me, Driver is too young to be getting one. But he’s on everybody’s lips at the moment.” 

With Driver as her grudging pick for Best Actor, Zeck turned to the Best Picture nominees and quickly chose Sam Mendes’ hard-hitting and immersive “1917.” 

“The film came out late, but it’s getting a lot of buzz for being something a little different, mostly stylistically. I just have a feeling that late play is going to work for it. I think people will argue that '1917' is groundbreaking and will want to give it something.” 

And as for director, Zeck picks Sam Mendes to pick up the honor. And better luck next year for the women directors of Hollywood.


Who will win Best Actress? The Maven thinks a dark horse will cop the little gold statuette.


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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.