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A Librarian Looks at Oscars 2022: Inclusive Stories, Exclusive Access
Posted On February 24, 2022
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Even in a season with fewer awards ceremonies to help forecast the Academy Award nominees for the 2021 film year, the Oscar nominations were fairly predictable when announced on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Critics Choice Awards have been pushed back multiple times, and because the Hollywood Foreign Press has been relegated to irrelevancy after its 2021 outing—for having no Black voters and some members receiving gifts from studios in hopes of nominations—the Golden Globes rightly passed without as much as a blip on the radar. So, what are we to expect from the 2022 Oscars ceremony? A surprising variety of genres with an unsurprising list of names.

As an extra feature of this article, listen to my conversation with NewsBreaks editor Brandi Scardilli about our Oscar nominee reactions and issues of library access on YouTube. You can read the transcript on Page 2 of this article.

Belfast movie poster

Academy Aperture 2025: Inclusion or Just Lip Service?

The 2022 Oscars are the first to be part of the Academy Aperture 2025 initiative. This plan was released in September 2020 to set standards for diversity and inclusion in film. Starting with the 2022 Oscars, producers must submit an Academy Inclusion Standards form along with their candidate for Best Picture. Although entrants do not yet have to meet the standards, they must indicate their current status in attempting to achieve them. However, movies released in 2023 that wish to be submitted for Best Picture consideration at the 2024 Oscars must meet two of the inclusion standards.

CODA movie poster

The Academy created four standards, with specific substandards for films to be considered diverse or inclusive by voters. To meet Standard A, a film must have at least one actor or significant supporting actor from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, or it must have a general ensemble in which at least 30% of members are from at least two underrepresented groups (women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people, or people with disabilities count as underrepresented groups; this wider definition is referred to as “underrepresented groups” hereafter), or the main storyline of the film is of an underrepresented group. Let’s be clear—with this first standard, a film does not have to meet all three standards. The film does not have to have diverse or inclusive content and does not even have to have lead actors of diverse backgrounds. If just one “significant” (and who knows what that means!) supporting actor is a person of color, the movie qualifies under Standard A.

Don't Look Up movie poster

Standard B focuses on the people behind the camera. To meet Standard B, a film must have at least two creative leadership positions/department heads from an underrepresented group, and one must be from a underrepresented racial or ethnic group; or at least six crew members/technical positions, not including production assistants, must be from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups; or at least 30% of the crew must be from an underrepresented group. With the way this standard is written, it would be harder not to fulfill it. How hard must you work in hiring people for a film not to have merely six crew members of racial or ethnic minorities? There’s setting the bar low, and then there’s burying the bar under the foundation.

Standard C aims to encourage production companies and studios to offer training and development for underrepresented groups. To meet the standard, a film studio must offer paid internships or apprenticeships for underrepresented groups (the rules here differ depending on the size of the studio) and offer training and work opportunities for underrepresented groups. Again, why should the Academy be lauded for asking studios to offer paid internships and training to literally anyone other than nonwhite cisgender men? Why should they even have to ask?

Drive My Car movie poster

The final standard, Standard D, requires a submitting studio to have multiple in-house senior executives from underrepresented groups on their marketing, publicity, and distribution teams. Because films must only meet two of these four standards to be eligible for Best Picture at the 2024 ceremony, do they really do anything to move the needle for inclusion in Hollywood? Most films would already meet at least two of these standards, and thus we would get the same slate of films we already have. In addition, because these standards only apply to the Best Picture category, awards in acting, directing, writing, cinematography, sound, editing, and more will not change at all, although it can be argued they would not change anyway, since most nominees in the remainder of the categories are members of the Best Picture films.

While the Academy Aperture 2025 initiative falls flat, the work the Academy did to expand its membership seems to have had a more pronounced effect. In the last 2 years, the Academy has grown by around 4,000 members, to almost 10,000 total. There are two ways to become a member—be nominated for an Oscar or be sponsored by two existing members in your category. Of the thousands of new members, 49% live outside the U.S., amplifying the variety of titles getting their rightful moment in the spotlight.

Dune movie poster

The 2022 Nominees

Although the nominees were relatively predictable, the race for the trophy is far from over for the contenders this year. Spider-Man: No Way Home unsurprisingly did not break into any of the major categories, but the biggest movie of 2021 did receive some recognition for its visual effects, alongside fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe nominee Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Best Original Song may more aptly be called Most Boring Song this year, but leave it to Documentary Short to deliver us the most poignant moment. The Queen of Basketball tells the story of Lusia Harris, three-time college national champion hooper and the first woman to score an Olympic basket in the mid-1970s. She was later drafted into the NBA—the WNBA was not created until almost 20 years later—but she never played. Produced by The New York Times and available to watch for free on YouTube, this short documentary will linger in your mind long after you mourn Harris’ death this past January at the age of 66.

The Animated Feature category has fan favorites Encanto, Raya and the Last Dragon, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Luca, and critical darling Flee. The latter is also nominated in the Documentary Feature category, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Encanto celebrated here.

King Richard movie poster

The big winner of the night will undoubtedly be The Power of the Dog. Nominated in 12 categories, including Best Picture, this unconventional Western was adapted and directed by Jane Campion. It’s her second nomination for Best Director, and she’s the only woman in the category. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, all of whom are nominated in their respective acting categories, with Smit-McPhee having the best chance at winning.

The rest of the acting categories will likely spread the love, with the front-runners being Will Smith for Best Actor in King Richard, the Williams tennis family biopic, and Ariana DeBose for Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story. DeBose brings new life to the character of Anita, all while performing alongside Rita Moreno, who 60 years ago won an Oscar for playing the same character. Best Actress is a more perplexing category. The front-runner seems to be Nicole Kidman for playing Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, a performance I found physically hard to watch in a movie I wished would end. In a similar yet different turn, Kristen Stewart nabbed her first Oscar nomination, portraying Diana, Princess of Wales, in Spencer—a career-highlight performance in a clunker of a movie.

Licorice Pizza movie poster

Despite all of the prognostications, hot questions remain: Will Van Morrison, nominated for his original song in Belfast, get vaccinated to attend the ceremony? No, he will not—he’s even being sued by the Northern Ireland Health Minister for defamation. Will a great actress (Stewart, Kidman) win for a bad movie (Spencer, Being the Ricardos)? Probably. Will the first openly LGBTQ+ woman (Stewart, DeBose) take home a statue? Please, please Oscar gods, make it so! Will a movie that makes the average person feel personally responsible for the world’s ills in a heavy-handed attempt at end-of-the-world satire (Don’t Look Up) actually have a chance? Please, please Oscar gods, don’t make it so!

Only time will tell.

Socioeconomic Disparity in Access Continues

A slate of genre-diverse movies representing people from Japan and Ireland as well as Afro-Latinas and LGBTQ+ actors and plotlines, thrillers, science fiction, biopics, noirs, musicals, Westerns, and earth-destroying meteors finds a place among the 2022 nominees. Something for everyone, it seems. Unless everyone includes those who don’t have access to the internet or are socioeconomically disadvantaged. If you find yourself in that group, better luck next time. But probably not.

Nightmare Alley movie poster

The ubiquity of streaming is a hot topic of conversation in entertainment, and rightly so. Because so many households have subscribed to streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, Disney+, and others, the way movies are made has changed. Budgets never before dreamed about are commonplace for streaming-studio-produced fare. Films that may not have hit it big at the box office can attain success by being a breakout hit on the internet. The downside to movies being financed by online distributors is if you don’t have access to the internet, you’ll likely either never get to watch them or only get to watch them after their relevance has faded.

I’ve brought up the inequity of streaming platforms multiple times in articles over the past few years (here, here, here, and here). People who live in areas without internet access or without strong enough high-speed internet—or who cannot afford the service—have a heavily curtailed ability to participate in cultural conversations with the rest of the country. Their access to information is cut off by virtue of their socioeconomic status or their geography. Previously, libraries helped fill this void. With the rise of streaming, libraries struggle to assist, because the films and shows on streaming services are becoming more rarely released in physical format.

The Power of the Dog movie posterOf the 10 Best Picture nominees in 2022, five are currently unavailable for physical purchase. At least three of them, CODA, Don’t Look Up, and The Power of the Dog, are on streaming-only services with no anticipated DVD release. Two of those films feature storylines, casts, or both with minority representation. Everyone would benefit from what these films have to offer. But not everyone gets the privilege of watching.

When I have brought up this access issue in the past, people often reply with, “Well, what about internet hotspots? They should solve the problem!” But hotspots are not magic. My library offers 15 hotspots for public use, and they are not cheap. They all run on unlimited plans, but unlimited is not really unlimited. Unlimited means the first 50GB of data is high-speed, and after that, speeds are throttled by the ISP. To stream a movie in 1080p, data is used at a rate of 1.5GB per hour. If the patron opts to watch in 2K, it increases to 3GB per hour. To watch in 4K is at a nearly unusable rate of 7.2GB per hour.

West Side Story movie poster

If we do the math on the four Best Picture titles currently available to stream with subscription services (the three aforementioned plus Nightmare Alley), not counting one-time rentals or purchases, that comes out to be 9 hours of streaming and 13.5GB of data usage. Capped at 50GB of high-speed data, only three people would be able to watch four Best Picture contenders—if that was all they used the hotspot for. How is that equitable? Hotspots do not solve our problem. They certainly help in times of need. But they are absolutely not a solution for subpar or nonexistent wired internet service.

The Final Word

Oscar days are here once again. A certain subgroup of people still care, while the rest continue on with their lives. The Oscars may seem inconsequential at first glance, but what receives critical attention says a great deal about where our collective consciousness lies and what stories we have time for. Big-budget superhero movies are always going to be blockbusters, at least for the foreseeable future. I am firmly entrenched in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and wish to take nothing away from its success. But those films do not need awards to raise their profile. Smaller, quieter, and often more introspective films rely on awards and critical praise to ensure these stories keep being invested in and told. Maybe one day, having access to their artistry will be a given and not a privilege.

Click here to view the full list of the 2022 Oscar nominees.

Movie poster images come from IMDb.

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Jessica Hilburn is the executive director of Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and the CEO of the Crawford County Federated Library System. She enjoys popular culture in libraries, true crime, and audiobooks, and she is passionate about advocating for rural communities and libraries, as well as broadband equity and information access. Hilburn’s writing has been published by Information Today, Inc.; ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited; Library JournalThe Oilfield Journal; and The History Press (which published her book, Hidden History of Northwestern Pennsylvania).

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