When Academy Award presenters speak the fateful words, “And the Oscar goes to…” the film name that follows will not only be a chance for Hollywood to pat itself on the back, but also an indication of what issues mattered most to movie viewers last year.
The 2019 Academy Awards will serve as an opportunity to revisit the greatest films of the past year as well as the cultural and political themes that mattered most in 2018. Film, like any art form, brings viewers into an experience, often asking difficult questions and challenging our preconceptions by presenting us with new, diverse perspectives. The 2019 Oscar nominees told pertinent stories that reflected the attitudes of our country in 2018.
This year’s nominees for best picture include “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Green Book,” “The Favourite,” “Roma,” “A Star Is Born” and “Vice.” Each of these films not only demonstrate cinemagraphic excellence, but also illustrate important cultural topics from 2018. We should all pay attention to Oscar nominees because the Academy Awards opens up conversations about the relationship between art and cultural issues.
The 2019 Oscars are not the first iteration of this connection between cultural themes and film. In 2017, for example, the Academy Award for best picture went to a film that addressed narratives relating to the LGBTQ community. In 2017, “Moonlight” won best picture for its poignant depiction of the experience of a gay black man.
Four of the films nominated for best picture address the issue of race, including “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Green Book” and “Roma.” These films are not only being recognized for their artistic excellence through their nomination, but also performed well among general audiences in the box office. “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman” and “Green Book” raised questions of race through unique looks at black identity; “Roma” takes a look at race relations in Mexico City.
The inclusion of these films in the nominees for best picture provide a stark contrast to the past few Academy Awards, during which the #OscarsSoWhite trended in criticism of the awards’ lack of diversity in nominees. Pushes for diverse and inclusive representation in the entertainment industry mirrored social and political emphasis for the same change in all aspects of American culture. This is not the first time the Academy Awards has been a manifestation of cultural change in regards to race and diversity. In 1964, Sidney Poitier won the Oscar for best actor for his work in “Lilies of the Field.” He was the first black actor to win this award, and he won it the same year the Civil Rights Act was passed.
The wake of the #MeToo movement is evidenced in the picks for best picture as well. “The Favourite” passes the Bechdel Test, which indicates films that has at least two women characters who talk to each other about something besides a man, with flying colors. At the same time, “The Favourite” takes a darkly comedic look at power struggles and female agency. “Roma,” also boasting a female protagonist, deals with disturbing issues of domestic violence, miscarriage and class struggle.
Issues of substance abuse arise among these nominees as well. “A Star is Born,” now in its third iteration, heartbreakingly depicts the weight that alcoholism and substance abuse can have on relationships. Similarly, the hit biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which tells the story of Queen’s Freddie Mercury, addresses the relationship between fame and substance abuse. In an era where instant fame is a possibility for anyone with internet access, these stories touch on a relevant cultural anxiety.
When the stars gather at the Dolby Theater on Feb. 24, it’s important to remember what’s at stake. The Oscars are more than an awards show for great but mindless entertainment. The Oscars reiterate the salient cultural themes from the year past, reaffirming and encouraging future filmmakers to further promote diverse and inclusive storytelling.