Joker leads Oscars 2020 pack – but Academy just trumps Baftas for diversity

By Catherine Shoard

Less than a week since Bafta’s strikingly white and male awards shortlist met with widespread criticism – including from the organisation’s own chief executive – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has released a set of nominations whose small concessions to diversity seem striking by contrast.

Cynthia Erivo is nominated for best actress for her role in a biopic of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, and Parasite – Bong Joon-ho’s acclaimed South Korean black comedy – is up for six awards, including best director and best picture.

Little Women, Greta Gerwig’s so-far-overlooked take on the Louisa May Alcott classic, also scored six nominations, including best picture and best adapted screenplay – but Gerwig was locked out of the all-male best director shortlist.

Such moves are likely to be just about sufficient to insulate the Academy from the worst of the anger that greeted Bafta’s equivalent announcement last Tuesday, where its members snubbed all non-white acting nominees, as well as homegrown talent such as Rapman and Joanna Hogg, and credited Joker – Todd Phillips’s Batman origins story – with the most nods.

However, many commentators expressed distaste at many of Monday’s omissions – in particular the lack of recognition in the best actress category for Lupita Nyong’o, star of Jordan Peele’s horror movie, Us and for Awkwafina, the lead in The Farewell. The complete exclusion of Lulu Wang’s much-admired female-centric Chinese-American drama does little to boost the Academy’s inclusivity credentials.

“In the past, the pushback against #OscarsSoWhite was, ‘There just weren’t enough performances to nominate,’” said April Reign, the activist who created the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in 2015.

“Well, that’s not the case this year. There was a wealth of talent — and not just of black performers but of various marginalised communities — that was overlooked. And it’s really unfortunate.”

Joker is also the nominee to beat at the Oscars this year, where it likewise goes into the race with 11 nominations, including best picture, best director and best actor for Joaquin Phoenix.

The one to beat … Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix.
The one to beat … Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. Photograph: Niko Tavernise/AP

It is only the second comic-book movie to land a best picture nomination, following Black Panther in 2018. Nine years before, Christopher Nolan’s Gotham-set The Dark Knight was snubbed for best picture – a move that many felt damagingly highlighted the divergent tastes of Oscar voters and paying audiences.

Some saw Joker’s position on the top of the pile as further evidence of an endemic misogyny in the film industry, however. Said Melissa Silverstein, the founder of Women and Hollywood: “You don’t have to look further that the movies nominated for the most Oscars this year to realize how white boy centric Hollywood is. A war movie, a mob movie and movie about an incel. Why we continue to glorify these stories over and over again is the crux of the problem.”

Coming in with 10 nominations are Sam Mendes’s first world war thriller 1917, Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 60s LA, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Martin Scorsese’s wintry mob epic, The Irishman.

Netflix, the studio responsible for that film, came away with 24 nominations from Monday’s announcement: leading the pack for the first time, but still fewer than anticipated, because of the complete lack of nods for Dolemite Is My Name and slightly underwhelming totals for Marriage Story and The Two Popes.

Disney picked up 23 nominations, while Sony – whose slate last year included Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – took 20.

Best supporting actress nominee … Laura Dern, left, with Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story.
Best supporting actress nominee … Laura Dern, left, with Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story. Photograph: Allstar/Netflix

Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama, ended up with six nominations, including for stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Johansson’s role in Jojo Rabbit means she will also be in the running in the best supporting actress race this year – although Laura Dern’s turn as her cynical lawyer in Marriage Story makes her the favourite.

Little Women’s Florence Pugh, Richard Jewell’s Kathy Bates and Margot Robbie (for Bombshell, costing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a key nod) round out the category – leaving Jennifer Lopez unrecognised for her pole-dancing turn in Hustlers.

Meanwhile, The Irishman’s Joe Pesci and Al Pacino, plus Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt, whose part in Tarantino’s film has earned him some career-best notices, compete for supporting actor.

Phoenix is the man to beat for leading actor, having taken the lion’s share of awards so far for his transformative performance in Joker. He is up against Driver, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonathan Pryce (for The Two Popes) and Pain and Glory’s Antonio Banderas.

Best actress nominee … Renée Zellweger in Judy.
Best actress nominee … Renée Zellweger in Judy. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler failed to capitalise on prodigious buzz for Dolemite Is My Name and Uncut Gems, respectively – and Robert De Niro’s leading role in The Irishman again failed to win over first-round voters. Taron Egerton’s Golden Globe win on Sunday for his Elton John in Rocketman did not in the end convert to an Oscar nomination.

Another apparent lock-in leads the best actress nominations: Renée Zellweger, whose turn as Judy Garland in last year’s biopic has won over critics and voters in other awards bodies alike. Competing against her, Johansson and Erivo are Little Women’s Saoirse Ronan and Bombshell’s Charlize Theron.

Last year’s Oscars won much praise for handing out four trophies – including best director – to Alfonso Cuaron’s Spanish-language, black-and-white story of a domestic servant, Roma; praise tempered by the eventual victory of reductive interracial road movie Green Book for best picture.

Nominated for best picture and best international film … Parasite.
Nominated for best picture and best international film … Parasite. Photograph: CJ ENM Corporation, Barunson E&A

This year, second-round voters have the chance to repeat the trick by honouring a foreign-language film in categories other than best international film: Parasite – which tells of an impoverished family infiltrating the lives of a wealthy household – is also up for best film, best director, best original screenplay, best editing and best production design.

The Baftas announcement last week led to such a backlash that the awards body promised a major review of its voting procedures. Speaking to the Guardian, Steve McQueen – a Bafta and Oscar winner for 12 Years a Slave – said the organisation risked cultural redundancy without urgent change.

Both the Baftas and Oscars have undertaken membership shakeups over the past five years in a bid to better reflect the diversity of both films and the wider world.

In 2017, a Bafta survey found that its members were 43% female, 18% minority ethnic and had a median age of 44; further intakes would likely have raised those figures further. Last year’s ceremony was the first since a new set of eligibility rules, designed to increase inclusion, were introduced for two key awards.

In 2016, the Oscars announced an intention to double their number of female and minority voters by 2020; a goal that appears to have been achieved by enormous drafts of fresh members, including 842 new faces in 2019 – and, more controversially, taking voting privileges away from “dormant” members.

The nominations in 24 categories were read out by John Cho and Issa Rae in Hollywood, ahead of the ceremony on 9 February. For the second year running, there will be no host, after last year’s impromptu decision not to replace Kevin Hart led to an 11% boost in the telecast’s ratings – the first rise since 2014.