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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: Sexism and Racism and Awards Voting, Oh My! (2015 Edition)

This morning’s PGA vote is as unsurprising as unsurprising can be. To begin with, there is nothing included that is out of the box that has been defined for months. American Sniper has built a lot of heat over the holidays. Nightcrawler has been gaining heat for a while already. And Foxcatcher has been expected by most prognosticators since Cannes, pushed into “unexpected” status only in the last few weeks.

If you want to make this into an issue of sexism, no one can stop you. But you are not on very strong ground.

Unbroken started falling from expected heights from the minute it was screened in America. Selma has been a remarkable piece of social media promotion and has a lot of support from a lot of corners, but its status as a mainstream hit has not been established.

A subtle, but not imagined level of racism is, perhaps, more of an issue for Selma. This conversation has a double edge. Black filmmakers and industry people get upset when I and others discuss race as a determining awards factor for films like Selma. Ava DuVernay retweeted a comment from Franklin “The Blacklist” Leonard that he was disappointed in me writing that Selma was part of a group of “black historic dramas” or something like that. (I am sorry that I can’t find the tweet exchange… but this is a close approximation.) I was unhappy to be in a position where it seemed that I was choosing to put Selma in a limiting box. But this is the reality, like it or not. And if people want it to change, we have to be able to discuss it without being accused of being the source of it. (I am not accusing Franklin or Ava of that… just of being very sensitive to it.)

There are many other reasonable arguments as to why Selma was not PGA nominated, having nothing to do with race or sex, for that matter. It is possible that voters just didn’t have the powerful experience that many have had with the film. It is possible that solid Christmas numbers, but less-impressive-than-Sniper numbers just didn’t make the cut. (American Sniper is the lowest-grossing film of the 10 PGA nominees. Selma is $100k behind it as of yesterday’s estimates.) Paramount’s decision not to send out screeners for Selma may have cost them a nomination. (They also chose not to send out Interstellar.)

Regardless, I think the idea that Unbroken and Selma didn’t get in because both had female directors is childish pouting. The notion of two films with female directors getting PGA, DGA, WGA, and Oscar nominations this year became a talking point that was hyped by many. But neither film was a natural lock for this. And I will not be shocked if neither woman gets a DGA nomination next Tuesday. That doesn’t mean that at least one might be deserving. But three, four or five films with Best Picture nominations will not get Best Director nods, likely leaving out the likes of David Fincher or Bennett Miller or Wes Anderson or James Marsh or Clint Eastwood or Christopher Nolan (again). The idea that sexism would be the defining character of a DGA nominee group of Iñárritu, Linklater, Anderson, Marsh, and Eastwood/Miller/Fincher/Nolan is pretty silly.

I won’t be shocked, btw, to see Ava DuVernay nominated by DGA. But it’s no cakewalk, especially this year. And it would be unfair to the entire group of directors to make this about sex. Or in the case of DGA, race.

Finally, we must all be reminded that “precursors” do not make for locks. PGA, specifically, includes multiple films most years that don’t make the Oscar cut and consistently leave at least one film out that will get a Best Picture nomination from The Academy.

Last year, Philomena got no PGA nod, but got an Oscar nomination. Blue Jasmine and Saving Mr. Banks got PGA nods, but no Oscar Best Picture slot.

In 2013/14, Amour got the Oscar slot and PGA nominees Skyfall and Moonrise Kingdom did not

In 2012/13, it was The Tree of Life, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close at The Oscars and PGA faves Ides of March, Bridesmaids, and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo staying home.

So… I personally think Unbroken is done, male director or female. It bodes well for Angelina Jolie as a director. But the decision not to dramatize the post-war life of the film’s hero was a mistake that is costing her in the awards season… even though they will win at The Bank Awards. But I won’t be surprised if Selma makes the Best Picture and even the Best Director cut next week. And remember, next week’s DGA announcement will have ZERO influence on Oscar nominations, because they come five days after Oscar nominations have closed.

It’s a very competitive season. There are many choices. Strong box office performances by Into The Woods and Unbroken may not be enough to change their status. But heat around American Sniper and Selma in very limited release may put them in the game in a big way. This is how it works.

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One Response to “20 Weeks To Oscar: Sexism and Racism and Awards Voting, Oh My! (2015 Edition)”

  1. Daniella Isaacs says:

    The sexism I see is nobody taking BIG EYES seriously, which frankly kind of mirrors the plot of the film. It’s “just” about a woman being taken advantage of by a man who steals her talents and takes credit for her work. It’s about “housewife problems,” so who cares? History is full of these incidents of “behind a great man there’s a woman” stories, but that’s, apparently not an important issue to most people. (Having just seen the film yesterday, I was slightly shocked and saddened that it’s being sidelined. It really as good as it could reasonably be expected to be, and the filmmaking is as fine as, for instance, THE IMITATION GAME.)

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon