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And The Award Goes To... The Patriarchy

Alex Thompson and Malu Rocha discuss awards season, breaking down the nominees, controversies and predictions

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Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Awards season for the film and television industry kicks off on 5 January with the Golden Globes and comes to
a close on 10 February with the 92nd Academy Awards. During that month, smaller scale awards shows such as the Critics’ Choice Awards and the BAFTAs will take place, stirring up momentum for the big Oscar night.

The 92nd Academy Awards
The first Academy Award was broadcasted back in 1929 and since then it has praised many outstanding pieces such as All About Eve, La La Land and Titanic (all of which received a record number of 14 nominations each) and also recognised some exceptionally talented individuals such as Meryl Streep who broke records by having 21 nominations to her name. However, it has also sprung controversy as it overlooked some emblematic works such as Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction which was overshadowed by Forrest Gump in 1994 and Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange which lost to The French Connection back in 1972. This year, Joker is the film with the highest number of nominations (11), becoming the first comic book movie adaptation to receive such a high number. Among other categories, it is running for Best Picture alongside Ford V Ferrari, The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, Little Women, Marriage Story, 1917, Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood and Parasite.

From Jennifer Lawrence’s iconic fall on her way to accept the award for Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook in 2013 to when La La Land was mistakenly announced as Best Picture instead of Moonlight in 2017, The Oscars provide for a night
of invaluable entertainment. Amidst all the glamour and potential celebrity gossip, it can sometimes be easy to
forget that at its core, awards shows are ultimately a competition where winners and losers will emerge. And more often than not, this competition begins even before the contestants are selected. Year after year, the announcement for the Oscars’ nominees have become larger in scale and are now broadcast live, becoming an event in and of itself.

As the Academy announced all the nominees last Monday (13th), film Twitter began to slowly explore in what can only be described as collective angst. Several users (even high-profile publication editors) pointed out a seemingly never-ending
list of diversity issues with this year’s list of nominees.

‘Pale, Male and Stale’
The Oscars are sometimes known as being a white, male-centric entity and unfortunately, the nominations for this year’s event have only increased that reputation. One Twitter user (Kevin Yang) pointed out that the Academy has failed to recognise any outstanding female candidates for Best Director even though they had plenty of options to choose from, from Greta Gerwig (Little Women) to Olivia Wilde (Booksmart). He described Greta Gerwig as a “white, privileged
film snob who shoots on film, worships Tarantino and has Spielberg’s backing,” meaning that she checks all the boxes of a white male’s definition of ‘auteur’, and even she couldn’t nod off a nomination as Best Director among her male counterparts: Quentin Tarantino, Todd Phillips, Martin Scorsese, Bong Joonho and Sam Mendes. This snub has led major newspapers such as The Telegraph to label the Oscars as still being ‘pale, male and stale.’

Another Twitter user pointed out that of all the Best Actress nominees this year, only one of them is a woman of colour, and her character is a slave. Cynthia Erivo was nominated for her role as Harrier Tubman in Harriet, and is running against Charlize Theron (Bombshell), Renée Zellweger (Judy), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story) and Saoirse Ronan (Little Women). Saying that this is due to the fact that there aren’t that many stories featuring people of colour simply cannot be used as an excuse anymore. More prominent roles are being written for people of colour, but for some reason the Academy has failed to recognise any of them this year.  From Nora Lum’s debut in The Farewell to Lupita Nyong’o’s intricate character in Jordan Peele’s Us, leading roles are starting to shift and encompass a more diverse demographic, but awards shows have yet to catch up.

This inevitably feels like a step backward considering that just three years ago, seven out of the 20 nominees for  best actor and actress were people of colour. Does this mean that the Academy willingly turned a blind eye to this issue, or that this year the performances from people of colour simply weren’t up to standards? This is a side of the debate supported by professionals such as Steven Spielberg who claim that quality should always overpower diversity. In a recent Tweet he said, “I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

The basis on which the Academy (and awards shows in general) chooses their nominees and winners is yet to be fully justified and transparent. This, however, does not stop people in power from commenting on the issue, especially that of the lack of female nominees under the Best Director category. In 2018, after Ron Howard introduced the category at the 75th Golden Globes, Natalie Portman quickly added, “and here are the all-male nominees”. Following up on this discontent, Issa Rae added a subtle, “congratulations to those men” as she announced the contenders for the same category for this year’s Academy Awards.

With such an extensive list of clearly signposted issues, it’s hard to see how the Academy was able to overlook this without either believing that it was done consciously or admitting that there is something intricately wrong with the film industry as a whole.

However, it’s refreshing to see that nominees for Best Animated Feature haven’t fallen into this trap. The genre has been a pioneer in celebrating diversity not only on screen in terms of the characters it displays but also behind the scenes. Disney’s biggest contender, Frozen 2, which is now the highest grossing animation ever, wasn’t nominated. Instead, Netflix’s I Lost My Body and Klaus have both received a lot of critical acclaim, proving that a traditional studio’s backing doesn’t necessarily equate to an award-worthy film. The same can be said of Laika Studio’s Missing Link which took home the Best Animation award at the Golden Globes earlier this month, surprising Disney fans left, right and centre by surpassing *Frozen 2, Toy Story 4 *and The Lion King. However, this more accepting stance seems to be somewhat restricted to the animation genre as other awards categories, including Best Production Design and Best Sound Mixing (to name a few) have yet to follow the example.

Indie vs the Blockbuster
Because of this (not so) recent discontent surrounding diversity at awards shows, people have started to turn to film festivals as a more eminent form of measuring a film’s success considering the vast array that they give high praise to, thus diminishing the influence of awards shows altogether. Festivals such as Cannes and Sundance are known for staying away from traditional blockbusters and instead celebrating the work of foreign and independent filmmakers. This year was no exception; of the nine Best Picture nominees for the Oscars, seven premiered at film festivals but only two received prestigious awards.

Even though Warner Bros.’s Joker won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and received praise from the festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera who said the film was “going straight to the Oscars”, most critics’ attention was turned to Bon Joon Ho’s Parasite. The modern fable on class division won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and soon made history by being the first Korean feature to be nominated for Best Picture and five other categories at the Oscars. Cinephiles are becoming increasingly more dependent on film festivals as a more reliant means of celebrating films that wouldn’t otherwise reach the mass public. However, this doesn’t stop big studios from trying to use the festival circuit as a way of expanding their films’ marketing campaigns. What may come as a surprise is that Netflix succumbed to this trend as well. The Irishman kicked off the New York Film Festival while Marriage Story was screened at all major fall festivals, following in the footsteps of Roma.

The Rise of Netflix
Netflix’s campaign at the Oscars this year has changed industry standards. The streaming service has become the studio with most nominations (24) attributed to its name, surpassing Warner Bros, Universal and even Disney. The number of Netflix films nominated since 2017 has almost doubled year after year, and the trend looks to be anything but reversible. Awards shows have therefore adapted to the fact that films are now being distributed and consumed differently by audiences. The industry is no longer only praising films that have had a traditional theatrical run, proving that the awards shows can in fact be malleable and shape themselves around industry demands, which at the end of the day, is what should be most highly praised.

- Malu

The Grammys
Awards Season isn’t purely focused on the silver screen. The Grammys is widely regarded as one of the most prominent awards in the music industry despite generating a huge amount of controversy and hype surrounding its nominees. This year is no different. Pop sensation Lizzo leads this year’s list with a well-deserved eight nominations, closely followed by the seemingly omni-present Billie Eilish and meme-God Lil Nas X with six apiece, with all three in the running for Album of the Year, Best New Artist and Record of the Year. As well as the more expected nominations, there are some interesting inclusions to make the list - notably Lana Del Rey whose latest album is one of her most divisive, Bon Iver’s subdued and sublime sleeper hit i,i and the youthful vibrance of rap newcomer, YBN Cordae. With the ceremony airing this coming weekend (26 January), here is our breakdown of the nominations and our predictions for the night.

Lizzo Won 2019
It’s an indisputable fact. The twerking flautist won the hearts of music fans in 2019 with her album Cuz I Love You being one of the year’s most explosive pop records and her vibrant live sets cementing her place as a true main-stage festival act. With Lizzo announced as a performer for the night, expect some flute-filled bangers and good vibes.

Rap’s Identity Crisis
Hip hop is always a point of contention at the Grammys and this year is no exception. As usual, there is a glaring omission of hip hop in the main categories. Tyler, The Creator’s album IGOR certainly deserves a spot on Album of the Year, Danny Brown, Freddie Gibbs and BROCKHAMPTON also seem like missed opportunities to be recognised as a more accurate representation of hip hop in 2019. Nipsey Hussle’s posthumous mentions are definitely a positive but the likes of Meek Mill and Dreamville making the list seem like choices that are far too safe, verging on lazy.

Rock Isn’t Dead But The Grammys Are Certainly Trying To Kill It
Rock music is alive and kicking in 2020. There have been some truly brilliant rock albums across the year, from the likes of Black Midi, Fontaines D.C, The Raconteurs and Bruce Springsteen that have pushed boundaries, blurred styles and kept the genre fresh and vibrant. None of these made the list. Instead, the Grammys list features the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, Tool’s worst album and Vampire Weekend as well as several landfill rock albums that have already faded into obscurity.

2020 Is The Year Of Newcomers
With Billie Eilish, Lizzo and Lil Nas X leading the pack, it’s an undisputed fact that new music and younger artists are driving this year’s awards. While the Grammy committee seems eager to acknowledge these artists, it does seem like they are really battering you around the head with it.

Who Doesn’t Deserve Their Spot
As usual, the Grammy’s have sprung a few ‘what the fuck’ inclusions on us, from artists whose works are so bland or so mindless that it seems like an accidental inclusion. Some of these nominations should never have left the draft stage. Khalid’s instantly-forgettable ‘Talk’ is the perfect example of this, a serviceable R&B track but the utter antithesis of whatever a ‘classic’ is. Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ is a banger that deserves all the recognition it can get but 7 is a terrible album thats inclusion feels more like a meme than anything else. Ed Sheeran’s jumbled mess of a collaboration album also picked up a nomination despite being a hopelessly desperate and transparent plea to blend Sheeran’s brand of overproduced pop with every popular trend in music, a pandering and condescending take on the likes of grime, latin pop, hip hop and whatever else Ed can get his money-grabbing hands on. A true shitegeist of an album. This is all, however, completely overshadowed by the choice to nominate the wife beating, convicted sex offender and R&B star Chris Brown - a true dick move from the Grammy committee and a middle finger to music fans everywhere.

The Glaring Omissions
Although I have no love nor admiration for Taylor Swift, her exclusion from several categories on the nominations list seems bizarre given the Grammy’s previous love for the artist and some of the utterly awful nominations taking its place. Solange and Bruce Springsteen don’t make the list at all, bizarre given their standing in the music industry as well as the excellent albums they released last year that showcase them as true titans of their respective genres. I would also have expected a Kanye West nomination for his middle-of-the-road hip hop gospel hybrid Jesus Is King which easily should have received production nominations as well as an inclusion in the hip hop category. It’s not his best work, but it’s a lot better than some of the landfill hip hop packing out the list.

Our Predictions
Lizzo and Billie Eilish are going to clean up the awards this year, most likely taking home four or five trophies apiece.Lil Nas X deserves‘ Best Record ’ for the colossal impact of the countryrap fusion that is ‘Old Town Road’ and Tyler,The Creator’s IGOR is a likely shoe-in for ‘Best Rap Album’. Ariana Grande will also probably end up taking home several awards for her stand out pop project thank u, next.

The BRITs
While America has the Grammy’s, the UK has the BRITs. Voted on by a panel of music industry experts and insiders, the awards ceremony recognises British music talent, focusing typically on pop music and the bigger break-out stars of the year. This year’s nominations have come under fire for the gender imbalance in larger categories, as well as for scrapping the idea to create a gender neutral ceremony, binning off gendered categories - a decisive step towards inclusivity, shot down by people claiming political correctness has gone mad. It really hasn’t. Anyway, ahead of the ceremony next month (18 February) here is our breakdown of the event and predictions for the night.

The UK Rap Renaissance
Uk hip hop is making big waves this year, with nominations including Dave, Stormzy and Aitch. The inclusion of DBlock Europe in ‘Group of the Year’ is another interesting addition that adds a bit of diversity to a category full of generic radio friendly cannon-fodder. ‘Ladbroke Grove’ is a strong contender for best song and in a year of grime truly breaking into the mainstream, it’s refreshing to see hip hop and rap take up such a large percentage of the nominees. Expect a night of big wins for the breakthrough hip hop acts of 2019.

Where Are All The Women?
The main four categories are shared by 26 male nomination and four female ones. Two of those are Neneh Cherry. ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Group of the Year’ are entirely male-dominated. While some may point a finger at the judging panel for what can only be referred to as a massive cock up, the problem seems to lie deeper in the UK music industry which seems  to be pushing male artists far more than their female counterparts. In a year where gender categories were almost scrapped entirely or a gender-neutral system, it seems bizarre that the nominees are so male orientated.

Jack Whitehall Will Be As Irritating and Unfunny As Usual
This one speaks for itself.

The Glaring Omissions
Sam Fender seems like a snub in many of the main categories, most notably in ‘Best Male Artist’ given the explosive year the Geordie Springsteen saw. The same can be said of former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher who described his omission from the awards as “BIBLICAL”. Yes Liam, it’s worse than a plague of locusts or a massive flood.

Our Predictions
Dave’s Mercury Prize winning grime odyssey Psychodrama will most likely win Album of the Year, having won over critics and fans alike with the heady blend of poetic lyrics and dense, complex and minimal instrumentals. ‘Group of the Year’ will most likely go to Foals whose 5th studio album divided fans and critics but created a healthy buzz that will likely push them ahead of Coldplay. ‘Female Solo Artist’ will almost certainly go to the incredible and experimental work of FKA Twigs.
The smart money is on Burna Boy to win ‘Best International Male Artist’ and Billie Eilish to win the female equivalent. I will riot if Stormzy doesn’t win ‘Male Solo Artist’. In short, this year’s music awards season is full of surprises. From the unlikely snubs to the even more unlikely conclusions, the well-deserved nominations and the ‘what the fuck’ inclusions, the Grammys and BRITs are showcasing the good, the bad and the utterly mad. Business as usual then.

- Alex

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