The 2017 Oscar Nominations Are Not So White Any More

2017 may have been an awful year for film culture, with its ongoing revelations of sexual abuse and gender inequities, but it was a phenomenal year for film, and yesterday’s Oscar nominations reflect that. While we can argue over which movies and performances were left out, it’s important to remember that “Oscar snubs” are not real, especially in years like this one where, with almost every category, you could come up with five other performances, screenplays, or scores that deserved to be in there as well. What’s more, this was a year filled with historic firsts in Academy history, many of which prove that the push for diversity among their membership is working. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

Kumail Nanjiani becomes the first Pakistani-American to be nominated for writing.

Nanjiani was nominated with his wife Emily Gordon for their screenplay The Big Sick, based on the true story of how they met and fell in love. Like Get Out, it is a film that deserves to stand with the movies that inspired it, like Four Weddings and a Funeral (Nanjiani’s favorite film). In addition to being an excellent writer, he is also an adept leading man and his performance was my favorite by an actor last year: his nervous breakdown while trying to order at a drive-through is a master class in comedy.

Netflix’s Mudbound gets four historic nominations.

Although it’s easy to gripe that Mudbound, my favorite film of 2017, didn’t get more awards love, it’s still the first non-documentary from Netflix to receive Academy recognition, a huge achievement in and of itself given the industry’s skepticism surrounding the streaming giant. What’s more, its nominees were mostly women: cinematographer Rachel Morrison became the first female DP ever nominated in her category; writer-director Dee Rees the first African-American woman to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, which she co-wrote with Virgil Williams; and Mary J. Blige the first African-American woman to receive two nominations in the same year, one for her supporting performance as the matriarch of the Jackson family, and one for co-writing the song “Mighty River.” 

At 89, Agnes Varda and James Ivory become two oldest nominees in any category.

If you haven’t seen films by either of these masters of their craft, correct that immediately. Varda, the last surviving director of the French New Wave, received an honorary Oscar from the Board of Governors last November and received her first-ever nomination for her heartwarming and entertaining documentary Faces Places, which she co-directed with French artist JR. 

Ivory, the previous recipient of three Best Director nominations for A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day, is now a lock to win for his phenomenal screenplay of Call Me by Your Name. Even more stunning is this coincidence: Varda and Ivory were born only eight days apart, on May 30th and June 7th, 1928, in Ixelles, Belgium, and Berkeley, California.

Christopher Plummer, the oldest acting winner, is now the oldest acting nominee.

In one of the riskiest gambles in recent years, Ridley Scott replaced Kevin Spacey’s performance as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World with the 88-year-old Plummer, reshooting all of his scenes in just a few weeks to make a Christmas release date. While the ethics of this decision have been debated, there is no question that artistically, it was the right move, as Plummer’s outstanding performance has received raves from critics and resulted in his third nomination for Best Supporting Actor, six years after becoming the oldest-ever winner, for his role in Mike Mills’ Beginners

4 of the 5 Best Actress nominees come from Best Picture nominees.

This may sound trivial, but it isn’t – the last time this happened was 1977, the year Meryl Streep made her film debut. Far too often, Best Actress represents a film’s only nomination, as with three of last year’s nominees (Isabelle Huppert, Ruth Negga, Meryl.) It’s also rare for Best Actress to sync up with Best Picture: the last movie to win both was Million Dollar Baby in 2004. This year, however, is a completely different story. With The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Lady Bird widely considered to be three of this year’s front-runners, it’s likely that whichever film wins might honor its leading lady as well. This will be one of the most watched races of the evening. Also, this is Meryl’s 21st nomination, a record I don’t expect to ever be broken.

Jordan Peele is the first African-American, and the fourth person ever, to be nominated for directing, writing, and producing their debut film.

Peele, the fifth African-American to get a Best Director nomination, is the first to achieve the Picture/Director/Writer trifecta on their first film, and one of only four people to have ever done so. The last time came in 1983, when James L. Brooks won all three for Terms of Endearment; and the first in 1941, when Orson Welles received those three nominations, plus Best Actor, for Citizen Kane (in-between, Warren Beatty got the same four nominations Welles did for his 1978 directorial debut, Heaven Can Wait.) What’s more, Get Out, which premiered in February of 2017, became the first Best Picture nominee to have such an early release date since Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, the first (and so far only) horror film to win the award. Given the Academy’s preferential voting system, which forces voters to rank their Best Picture favorites from 1-9, Get Out could easily be the second.

Greta Gerwig is the fifth female nominee for Best Director.

Gerwig’s solo directorial debut (she previously co-directed 2008’s Nights and Weekends with mumblecore king Joe Swanberg) has been universally embraced by audiences and critics, and has placed her in distinguished company – only four women before her have been nominated as Best Director, and only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won. It has been eight years since Bigelow’s historic nomination and win, and given the Academy’s changing demographics, let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long for this kind of thing to happen again.

Wonder Woman becomes the first movie about a female superhero to not get a single nomination.

Well…nobody’s perfect.

Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.