While a strong contender like “Parasite” does not need the Oscars to validate its place in history — it’s the first Korean film to receive the Palme d’Or, the highest-grossing foreign film of the year (topping the $20 million mark), the first Korean film to receive Golden Globes nominations, and so on.
The Oscars, however, may need “Parasite.” Inclusion sells, and Bong Joon Ho’s celebrated tale of class warfare would mark the first international Oscar nomination for a Korean movie. A 2015 Nielsen report found a direct correlation between Oscar nominee diversity in major categories and viewership. The more diverse the nominees, the larger the audience, and vice-versa. Given that ABC’s Oscar telecast generates a significant share of the Academy’s annual earnings, it’s crucial that the awards show maintains high ratings.
Of course, even the increasingly diverse Academy voters are at the mercy of their options. That’s why it’s imperative that executives with greenlight power ensure a more diverse and inclusive movie pipeline. That might be the only way that the Oscars will remain relevant in the future.
But how about now? Will #OscarsSoWhite trend in 2020? The lineup of contenders in major categories has the potential to match the level of diversity among nominees that the Academy has seen in recent years — but it’s unlikely to show any improvement over last season. Here’s a preview of the diversity picture in key categories.
History: While “Green Book” raised the ire of many who thought it indulged in a “magical black man” trope, last year’s Best Picture nominees were fairly diverse — a record five out of eight nominees centered on people of color (the Academy raised the number of eligible films from five to between five and 10 in 2009). 2020 doesn’t look like it can match that number: While films like “Harriet,” “Just Mercy,” “Clemency,” and “Queen & Slim” have all been introduced to awards season with plenty of hype, none of them are poised to capture a Best Picture nomination.
The experts say: Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” is a surefire bet. The dark comedy-thriller has received widespread critical acclaim, becoming the highest grossing Korean release in the U.S. ever. It was selected as the South Korean entry for Best International Feature Film, Bong’s second selection after 2009’s “Mother.”
Possible: There’s “The Farewell,” Lulu Wang’s family dramedy that screened in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and was theatrically released in the United States by A24. Wang’s “Farewell” received near unanimous acclaim from critics, with praise for her screenplay and direction, as well as the performances of stars Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen, both also contenders.
Longshot: Netflix’s feel-good, inspirational Rudy Ray Moore biopic “Dolemite Is My Name” (Eddie Murphy’s “comeback” film) will need help. The streaming giant can probably count on “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” picking up nominations. The odds of a single studio having three films nominated in a field of five to 10 aren’t historically high.
History: Alfonso Cuarón won the Oscar last year for “Roma.” He and Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman”) were the only two directors of color nominated.
The experts say: Bong Joon Ho is once again a frontrunner, and will likely make the final cut for “Parasite.” It would be his first-ever Oscar nomination.
Possible: The Academy may not want to follow the Globes in completely shutting out women directors. There are certainly several worthy candidates to choose from this year, and Lulu Wang is one of them for “The Farewell.” Taika Waititi is also a possibility for his satirical tragicomedy “Jojo Rabbit,” which he co-starred in and wrote– although the film did polarize critics, drawing praise but also criticism for its comedic portrayal of Nazis. That could be a liability.
History: This has historically been one of the least diverse categories, with just five actresses of color nominated in the last decade: Yalitza Aparicio, Ruth Negga, Quvenzhané Wallis, Viola Davis, and Gabourey Sidibe. Aparicio was the only nominee of color last year, for her performance in “Roma.” This drought speaks to what has been a lack of lead roles for women of color in film, especially when it comes to Oscar-caliber work. The last time an actress of color won this category was Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” in 2002.
The experts say: This year’s list of nominees has the potential to be one of most diverse ever for the category, with as many as three actresses of color in the mix: Awkwafina (“The Farewell”), Lupita Nyong’o (“Us”), Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”).
They all won’t make the final list of five nominees, but there’s a good chance that two of them can. In the acting categories, the Oscars tend to mimic the SAG Awards. Both Erivo and Nyong’o are SAG nominees this year, so one or both of them could end up picking up Oscar nominations as well.
Longshot: Alfre Woodard, once thought to be a favorite for “Clemency,” seems to have slipped, snubbed by the Globes and SAG, and fallen out of the top five on many expert lists. That might change after Neon releases the film on December 27. Woodard did receive an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
History: Rami Malek was the solo nominee of color for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and he won the Oscar. Prior to Malek, Forest Whitaker won in 2006 for “The Last King of Scotland.”
The experts say: While the Best Actress category might see its most diverse group of nominees ever, it’s quite the opposite on the actor side, with Eddie Murphy (“Dolemite Is My Name”) as the only person of color with a real shot at a nomination. As is the case in the Best Actress category, the general absence of nominees of color contending for the Best Actor Oscar speaks to a lack of lead roles for men of color in film, especially when it comes to Oscar-caliber work. Murphy did pick up a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.
Best Supporting Actress
History: The supporting acting categories are where performers of color have historically shined. Actresses of color have won the Oscar five of the last 10 years: Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer, Lupita Nyong’o, Viola Davis, and Regina King, who won the award last year as one of two nominees of color (Marina de Tavira was the other for “Roma”).
The experts say: Jennifer Lopez for “Hustlers.” This would mark her first-ever Oscar nomination. She’s also up for SAG and Globe recognition in the same category.
Possible: Zhao Shuzhen for “The Farewell” is also very much in the conversation, and has a great chance of making the final list of five. It would also be her first.
Longshots: Da’Vine Joy Randolph (“Dolemite Is My Name”) and Jo Yeo-jeong (“Parasite”) are certainly deserving, but it’s a stacked field this year (as it typically is in this category), and they would need plenty of help.
This year could very well see a repeat of the record-setting 89th Academy Awards when three of the five nominees were women of color: Viola Davis (“Fences”), Naomie Harris “Moonlight” and Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures”).
Best Supporting Actor
History: Mahershala Ali won this category twice in the last three years (“Moonlight” and “Green Book”). He was the only nominee of color last year. Before Ali, the last time an actor of color won the Oscar was in 2005, when Morgan Freeman took it home for “Million Dollar Baby.”
The experts say: Along with the Best Actor category, this risks being one of the least diverse this year, with heavyweights Brad Pitt (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Al Pacino (“The Irishman”), Tom Hanks (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), Joe Pesci (“The Irishman”), Willem Dafoe (“The Lighthouse”) and Anthony Hopkins (“The Two Popes”) all battling for slots.
According to the pros, the only real challenger of color appears to be Song Kang Ho (“Parasite”). But Jamie Foxx (“Just Mercy”) did pick up a supporting actor SAG nomination, which means he shouldn’t be ignored, and could very well get the nod, should the history of SAG nominees predicting Oscar nominees continue.
Longshots: Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”), Sterling K. Brown (“Waves”), and Wesley Snipes (“Dolemite Is My Name”).
Best Adapted Screenplay
History: This is historically one of the least diverse categories. But when writers of color do pick up nominations, they tend to win. In the last decade, writers of color have been nominated just five times, and won four of the five: “Precious” (Geoffrey Fletcher), “12 Years a Slave” (John Ridley), “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins), and “BlacKkKlansman” (Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, co-written with Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz).
Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” were the only two nominees of color last year.
The experts say: Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”) is the only real contender of color in this category. His adaption of Christine Leunens’ book “Caging Skies” is one of five finalists for the USC Scripter Award for best film adaptation, which has proven to be a strong predictor for the Oscar in this category, including eight of the last 10 years.
Longshot: Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Just Mercy” (which he co-wrote with Andrew Lanham), which is an adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” hasn’t quite mustered a significant amount of critical buzz, despite generally positive reviews, especially praising its performances. The earnest advocacy drama is being overshadowed by buzzier, higher profile titles like “The Irishman,” “Joker,” and “Jojo Rabbit.”
Best Original Screenplay
History: Last year saw one writer of color nominated: Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma.”
“Green Book” won the Oscar although none of its writers were of color. Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie and Peter Farrelly penned the script which polarized audiences, drawing criticism for its depictions of race and historical inaccuracies.
The last time that a writer of color won the award was at the 2018 ceremony, when “Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele became the first African American to win the category.
In the last decade, writers of color have won just twice: Peele’s “Get Out” and “Birdman,” which was co-written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Nicolás Giacobone.
The experts say: “Parasite” (co-written by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won) is considered a real contender. It earned a Golden Globe nomination in the same category.
Possible: “The Farewell” (written by Lulu Wang) isn’t as much of a sure bet as “Parasite,” but it has enough fans among the pros for it to have a chance at a nomination in this category, especially if it’s ignored in others.
The 92nd annual Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, February 9, 2020. Nominations will be announced on Monday, January 13, 2020.