Oscars: Did Those New Academy Members Make a Difference in the Nominations?

Illustration by James Fosdike

Voters may include more international filmmakers, women and people of color than ever, but it's unclear how that affected the outcome of this year's nominations, which, for all their diversity, held few surprises.

Officials at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences breathed a huge sigh of relief when the nominations for the 90th Oscars were unveiled Jan. 23.

A reprise of #OscarsSoWhite, the worst-case scenario that they had feared, was averted when four black actors were nominated. Diversity was on display in other categories as well — especially among the directors, with noms for The Shape of Water's Guillermo del Toro, Get Out's Jordan Peele and Lady Bird's Greta Gerwig. The cinematographers branch made history by nominating its first woman — Mudbound's Rachel Morrison. And Dee Rees of Mudbound became the first black woman nominated in the adapted screenplay category.

April Reign, who coined #OscarsSoWhite in 2015, cautioned that the issues the hashtag raised still need to be addressed. "Until we can get to a point where we are no longer talking about firsts and we can no longer count contributions to a specific category by a traditionally underrepresented community on our fingers, we still have work to do," she said. But she also allowed, "I do believe some of the things we are seeing this year are a direct result of the Academy becoming more diverse."

That's also the view inside the Academy, which has made a concerted effort to recruit more women, people of color and international filmmakers, inviting more than 1,400 new members in the past two years to a group that now totals 7,258 active voting members.

But did that outreach really make a difference? Since the numbers aren't revealed, no one knows how many of the members, old and new, actually participated in the nominating process. And the noms, rather than embracing unexpected, out-of-the-box choices, largely reflected the awards season consensus.

The directing noms, for example, closely approximated the choices announced earlier by the Directors Guild — they included Dunkirk's Christopher Nolan and made just one substitution, replacing Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) with Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread). Not surprisingly, the two groups aren't that demographically different. The Academy estimates 28 percent of its members are women (compared with 23.4 percent of the DGA), while 13 percent are people of color (the DGA's share is 10.8 percent).

Turning to the acting categories, the Academy's picks largely echoed the SAG Awards noms announced nearly a month before Oscar balloting began. SAG and the Academy agreed on 15 out of 20 slots across the four acting categories: While Shape's Octavia Spencer joined the list, four of the Oscar nominees who bumped SAG's choices — Phantom's Daniel Day-Lewis and Lesley Manville, The Post's Meryl Streep and All the Money in the World's Christopher Plummer — came from the three movies that didn't begin screening for voters until just before their year-end releases, well after SAG had kicked off its own balloting. So while they didn't make an impression on SAG-AFTRA voters, they registered on the Academy radar.

But what about all those new international folks? "Sounds to me like there were a lot more Brits voting," theorizes one awards consultant, pointing to the eight noms for Dunkirk and the six each for Darkest Hour and Phantom. (That last film may have been directed by Anderson, an American, but it's British to the core.)

The problem with that theory is that there have always been plenty of Anglophiles within the Academy. And while the BAFTA noms did show a slight hometown preference for Darkest Hour (giving Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays Winston Churchill's wife, a supporting actress nom and composer Dario Marianelli a music nom), they didn't reward Phantom with a directing or best picture nom.

The influence of international filmmakers may have helped Agnes Varda earn a documentary citation for Faces Places, her idiosyncratic tour of the South of France, since her film, for all its acclaim, wasn't nominated by the Producers Guild or the DGA. But if international filmmakers now represent a growing block within the Academy, they failed to push through a nom for In the Fade's Diane Kruger even though she was Cannes' best actress winner.

As the Academy continues to push for more diversity, the nominations in future years could take on a more dramatically different complexion. But that will depend on changes that the industry itself, not its awards body, must make.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.