Why Greta Gerwig’s Snub Is Only the Latest Sign the Oscars Are a Giant Mess

As an entertainment editor who spends 40 hours a week reading and writing about movies, television and all things celeb, I naturally set an alarm for 8:15 this morning. Why? To find out which films and stars were nominated for Oscars, of course. 

By the time my alarm rang, I’d already completed a hot yoga class, eaten a low-carb homemade breakfast and penned 20 pages in my creative writing journal. Just kidding. I angrily rolled over in bed, slapped my phone as if it were to blame for morning coming so soon and shuffled my way to the couch. I opened my laptop, ready to find out who had made the cut and who would be a headline in an inevitable Oscar snubs article.

I perused the list of names that had been announced by Issa Rae and John Cho already and continued to refresh the page as more names were revealed. Confusion quickly set in, along with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

Sure, the expected films were there: Joker, 1917, Marriage Story. But where were the upsets? Where was the diversity? Where the hell was Greta Gerwig?

And beyond the surprisingly unsurprising nominees, why did the list read like a who’s who of the late ’90s/early 2000s? Could this be my fault? Had I accidentally set my alarm for the year 2002 instead of 8:15 a.m.? 

By the time I finished scrolling through the complete list of Oscar nominations, one thing was abundantly clear: The Academy Awards as we know them have got to go. Allow me to explain.

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Why Am I Complaining?

Entertainment is my life, so I take it extremely seriously when the highest honors in the industry go off the rails. And to say that the Oscars are off track is an understatement.

But why should anybody care? With so many problems in the world, should I really be complaining that a bunch of Hollywood actors didn’t get nominated for some award?

The answer is a resounding YES. Because movies are not just a part of our culture. They are both a symptom of and a prescription for what is wrong with our culture. Movies have the power to spark important discussions and bring sensitive and “taboo” topics into the mainstream. Remember when Tom Hanks (one of the most mainstream actors in America) played a gay man dying of HIV in Philadelphia in *1993*?! Obviously, the film was groundbreaking and his portrayal heartbreaking, but Tom Hanks also won the Oscar for Best Actor that year. The nomination and the statuette were a sign that America was ready to talk about previously unmentionable topics and that America needed to talk about them.

The Academy Award nominations matter (and we should all complain) because they send a signal to the world that reflects our values and the issues that are important to us, and this year, that signal was not a good one.

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What Year Is It?

Let’s start with the most basic red flag in this year’s list of nominations: I feel like I’m back in high school with all these throwbacks. It’s almost as if the Oscars are so afraid of moving into the future that they simply copy-and-pasted the nominees from 15 or 20 years ago.

We’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Al Pacino, Scarlett Johansson, Renee Zellweger, Anthony Hopkins…TOM HANKS. Tell me you aren’t feeling the déjà vu as well. 

It isn’t actually the age of the actors that is so troubling. I’m all for actors hitting their stride later in life (I will watch Margo Martindale and Ann Dowd do literally anything). It’s that the list of names is so uncreative that it’s as if the Academy can’t think beyond the options they came up with back when these stars were fresh on the scene.

It also isn’t that the actors didn’t turn in incredible individual performances. Theron in Bombshell is a true tour de force. Johansson displays some of the best work of her career in Marriage Story. But the nominations as a whole? They’re just stuck. Stuck in a time long gone, afraid to move forward with fresh blood and new, diverse talent.

Which brings me to two of my biggest concerns…

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Where Is The Diversity?

Not very long ago, the Oscars were confronted with a significant problem that was best explained by the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The Academy attempted to address the very real issue of lacking diversity among the nominees. In fact, as Forbes points out, for the first several awards handed out at last year’s Oscars, “Not only were women swarming the stage, but four of the six awards went to women of color.”

This year, however, 19 of the 20 acting nominations went to white performers. While Cynthia Erivo is nominated for her portrayal of the title character in Harriet, these acting nods are clearly not a reflection of the diversity we saw in this year’s films. So the “maybe there was nothing diverse to choose from” argument is moot. Where was Jennifer Lopez for Hustlers? Where was Lupita Nyong’o for Us? How about Golden Globe winner Awkwafina for The Farewell? Or Jamie Foxx for Just Mercy

And the non-acting categories weren’t much better. *Cough, Beyoncé, cough* Talk about missing the mark, Academy Awards…

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What Did Greta Gerwig Ever Do To You?

In another noticeably un-diverse category, all five Best Director nominees are men. The problem with not having a single female among the bunch was immediately evident.

Even as the nominations were being announced by Issa Rae, she commented on the disastrously uncreative category. “Congratulations to those men,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Only one woman in the past 91 years of the Oscars has won Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009. The Academy ensured that the statistic would become one in 92 years thanks to the omission of directors such as Greta Gerwig, who gave us the beautiful Little Womenstarring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Florence Pugh (more on Pugh later).

But guys. It’s not as if Gerwig was the only snub. Other talents were wholly missed, like Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Melina Matsoukas (Queen & Slim), Kasi Lemmons (Harriet), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) and Alma Har’el (Honey Boy). Not to mention Lorene Scafaria who directed Hustlers. If Adam McKay was nominated for The Big Short, Scafaria should have been nominated for Hustlers.

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JEAN-BAPTISTE LACROIX/Contributor/Getty Images

So What’s The Solution?

With a nominee list that seems stuck in the past, that lacks both racial and gender diversity, it is clear to me—and I seriously hope clear to you—that the Oscars as we know them need to come to an end.

But that doesn’t mean they should be gone for good. I love movies and awards shows far too much to ever spew such heresy. Think of the Oscars as needing more of a reboot. And in 2020, with the new Party of Five, Lizzie McGuire and Saved by the Bell, what could be more appropriate than a reboot?

In this reboot, we should be recognizing and rewarding the next generation of films, performers and creative professionals. And by “next generation” I don’t mean simply younger artists (seriously, someone put Margo Martindale in more damn movies!). But rather, the Academy should be recognizing emerging artists, in addition to those tried-and-true established names (Meryl Streep will be due for her biennial Oscar in 2021, I believe). Little Women’s Pugh seems to be a great start, as she is clearly going to blow up after her brilliant performance, but she’s just the start.

In addition to moving out of the past, the categories should reflect the diversity of the year’s films. And, as I said earlier, they should be a reflection of the culture in which we live, one that is diverse in every sense of the word.

All is not lost. Obviously, next year will give the Oscars another chance to get things right after this disappointing showing. I’m hopeful that a fresh start, a reboot, a new inclusionary approach to nominating artists is still entirely possible. Setting my alarm for 8:15 now. Don’t disappoint me, Academy… 

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VP, News and Entertainment; 'And Just Like That' Podcast Host; Up-And-Coming Bowler

Philip spearheads PureWow's news and entertainment team. He has 10+ years experience working in entertainment coverage and viral media, previously serving as a writer/editor...