Diversity colors nominations for 91st Academy Awards

From Spike Lee to "Black Panther" to short film "Bao," this year's Oscar nominations are clearly more multi-cultural and less traditional than those of years past.

With the announcement of nominees for the 91st Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) gave two specific films the most attention with 10 nominations apiece.

Roma, the semi-autobiography by director Alfonso Cuaron and director Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark comedy The Favourite got those nods including receiving nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. Though both are period pieces and set in countries outside the United States directed by non-Americans, each is distinct from the other in terms of tone, acting, and theme to earn their respective nominations.

Despite the double-digit nominations each of these pictures received, many are instead pointing out the achievement that another motion picture got on this day. With its nomination for Best Picture, Black Panther by director Ryan Coogler becomes the first superhero film or film based on a comic book to receive that distinction at the Oscars.

In a cinematic landscape now dominated by superhero movies from Marvel, DC, and other publishers-turned-movie producers, it’s an incredible feat, particularly because the title hero and most of the cast are composed of African-Americans. When T’Challa, King of Wakanda and inheritor of the mantle of the Black Panther, was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, it was rare for a non-Caucasian hero to even exist in comics. The film version followed the same route as Black Panther was just the second mainstream comic hero of African descent to headline his own motion picture (after Blade from 1998).

Other nominees for Best Picture are A Star is Born, Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, and BlacKkKlansman from director Spike Lee. Thus, 30 years after releasing Do The Right Thing, Lee also finally got Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. The fiery and sometimes controversial Lee was already given an Honorary Oscar in 2015, but the man behind Malcolm X, Mo’ Better Blues, and He Got Game was only previously nominated by the Academy for Best Original Screenplay and Best Documentary Feature.

Perhaps to further underline this year’s diversity, two animated filmswith Asians and African-Americans at their respective centers receivednominations. Pixar Animation Studios’ Bao,the short film from Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi seen before screeningsof The Incredibles 2, was nominated forBest Animated Short. Shi is also the first female to direct a Pixar animated short. The story itself focuses on Asian characters and themes of immigrants that draw from Shi’s experience growing up in Toronto, Canada.

Perhaps causing a bigger ruckus was released in late 2018 but still a winner at the box office and now in the nomination for Best Animated Film. That would be Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a tale of Spider-Man from the comics but focused on African-Latino teenager Miles Morales rather than the very Caucasian Peter Parker. Already a winner at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse battles for Best Animated Film with The Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, and Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Yet another example of this embracing of diversity can be seen in the nominations for Best Actor as Rami Malek, whose parents are Coptic-Egyptian immigrants, was cited for his portrayal of an iconic figure. As legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, himself a second generation Indian who grew up British, Malek followed up his Golden Globe triumph with this Best Actor nomination for Bohemian Rhapsody.

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