Faced with the reality of a Trump presidency, the Academy is doubling down on its Diversity Initiative. Already, the film industry is supplying more than the usual number of Oscar contenders boasting women and people of color, including the crafts.
Will voters be in the mood to send a post-Election inclusion message? You bet. The biggest impact could occur in the cinematography race, where only one person of African descent has ever been nominated (British-born Remi Adefarasin for “Elizabeth”), and no women. Cinematographer James Wong Howe, nominated seven times, won two Oscars, and Peter Pau one (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), while 10 other Asians have been nominated in that category. The last four cinematography winners are Latino, including Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi”) and three-time winner Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity,” “Birdman,” “The Revenant”).
After being overlooked for “Selma,” Bradford Young has a second opportunity to become the first African-American nominee for his poetic imagery in “Arrival,” Denis Villeneuve’s sublime alien contact parable starring Amy Adams about time, memory and mortality — and what it means to be human.
“I was free to be more imaginative and use all 360 degrees of the environment,” Young told IndieWire. He also found the non-linear structure about bending time quite liberating, going from hand-held “family portraitures” to an ethereal atmosphere inside the alien ship to envelop Adams in a cathedral-like fog of comfort.
Meanwhile, Charlotte Bruus Christensen (“Fences”) and Mandy Walker (“ ”) are in contention to become the first women cinematography nominees for their striking work in these powerful African-American dramas (both shot on 35mm film for a more natural look).
The Danish-born Christensen shot on widescreen film to capture an authenticity of performance and setting in Denzel Washington’s adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson play (shot on location in Pittsburgh).
“It’s a period piece and it’s claustrophobic and it has a colorful look that’s truthful to the environment and the actors,” Christensen told IndieWire. “My work was about being minimalistic — making choices about what we do not do. For instance, when not to move the camera. There are a lot of long takes and wide shots— pacing up and down to break the stillness.”
Likewise, “Hidden Figures,” the historical drama about African-American math genius Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) helping NASA to catch up in the ’60s Space Race, was shot by the Australian Walker on widescreen film, using the saturated Kodachrome look of the period.
The iconic image of Johnson working in the all-male, all-white Space Task Group was “a jewel in a sea of white,” according to Walker. ““We also made sure that we could use the low depth of field focus to create layers to draw your attention to certain parts of the frame,” she told IndieWire.
“Hidden Figures” also offers the first African-American production design nomination possibility for veteran Wynn Thomas (“A Beautiful Mind”), who has never been nominated. He used seven different locations in Atlanta for NASA, including the Space Task Group set.
Kenneth Walker has an opportunity to break through as the first African-American hairstylist nominee for “Loving,” based on the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized the interracial marriage of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga).” Walker, who conveyed Mildred’s activist stance through hairstyling, told IndieWire: “She was not afraid — he slung the mud and the brick and she was the mud and the brick.”
Women could also flourish in the original score category, in which they’ve previously been nominated only seven times, with Rachel Portman (“Emma”) and Anne Dudley (“The Full Monty”) as the sole winners.
Mica Levi (“Jackie”), Lesley Barber (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Kathryn Kluge (“Silence”) — in collaboration with conductor-composer husband Kim Allen Kluge — are all in contention this season.
Levi, previously overlooked for “Under the Skin,” creates a haunting synthesis of classical and jazz for the story of Jackie Kennedy’s (Natalie Portman) post-assassination, five-day ordeal.
“There’s a light waltz when Jackie’s in the plane with JFK on the way to Dallas with clarinet and flute. That’s Jackie’s music,” Levi told IndieWire. “Then the waltz comes apart when she’s in the hospital. It’s very dislocating and the instruments are broken down into [separate pieces].”
In Kenneth Lonergen’s grief-stricken “Manchester by the Sea,” Barber created a baroque score highlighted by A-cappella vocals. “It’s different from a conventional narrative score where there’s a slow gathering storm for Lee [Casey Affleck],” she told IndieWire. During the opening at sea, for example, there’s a more spacious approach than in later pieces, recorded in a more confined space.
“It’s not about the women issue, it’s more about when you reach out and try new language,” Barber said. “There are so many scores that have gone into new, cool directions!”