Actress Issa Rae was ready with her quip, as if she had predicted the Oscar nominations that were announced Monday. “Congratulations to those men,” she said dryly, as the best director nominees — yes, five men — were announced.
Rae's expertly thrown shade echoed through social media as observers took stock of what was, yet again, a pretty bad day for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood. Not only were there no female nominees in directing for the 87th time in Oscar history — a direct snub to Greta Gerwig, director of the acclaimed “Little Women,” as well as several other worthy candidates. There was also only one person of color, Cynthia Erivo, among the 20 acting nominees.
Those slights overshadowed the happier news that across all categories, a record 62 women (about a third of nominees) were nominated.
They also had people asking: Why is this happening again, when diversity has been on the front burner for years now, and the Academy has taken steps to overhaul its overwhelmingly white, male membership? And what will it take to accomplish real change?
“So here we are again,” said Stacy L. Smith, director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, of the nominations. She said the results were particularly frustrating because 2019 was a breakout year for female directors.
“They were out in strong numbers. This was the year of the highest percentage of female directors that we've seen,” she said. “And yet they're not allowed to be lauded by these cultural institutions for their directing prowess.”
There's a “complete disconnect,” Smith added, "between objective criteria of merit and what we are seeing in the nominations for directing at the Academy Awards.”
In terms of race and ethnicity, there was disappointment that only Erivo's nomination for “Harriet” prevented an entirely white slate in all four categories — a scenario that first happened in 2015, resulting in the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, and again in 2016.