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Mason professor assesses state of the Oscars

January 26, 2018

Giovanna Chesler

The just-announced list of Academy Awards nominations illustrates how movements such as #MeToo, #TimesUp and #OscarsSoWhite are impacting Hollywood culture, a George Mason University professor said.

“The entire film industry is being called out right now on account of white supremacy and racism, on account of sexism and sexual violence, and on account of pay inequity,” said professor and filmmaker Giovanna Chesler, director of George Mason’s Film and Video Studies Program. “In the Academy’s nominations and in this awards season overall, we are seeing some response to and some impact of these movements.”

Chesler points to the recognition for the film “Get Out” and director/writer Jordan Peele; Greta Gerwig, only the fifth woman ever nominated as best director, for “Lady Bird”; Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever nominated for best cinematography, for “Mudbound”; and Yance Ford, the first trans director of an Oscar-nominated film, the documentary “Strong Island.”

Even so, Chesler said she still sees bias.

How, Chesler asked, could “Mudbound” receive nominations for cinematography, best adapted screenplay, supporting actress and original song, but not for Reese’s direction?

She also pointed out the criticism of the Academy for not nominating any Latinx or Asian American actors. It is the sixth consecutive year in which no Latinx actors were nominated, the Huffington Post reported.

“So there is still some shifting that needs to occur,” Chesler said.

“The industry also has to address the fact that films that appeal to historically marginalized voices are incredibly marketable and desirable,” she said, referencing the success of “Get Out” and the expected $100 million opening for “Black Panther.” “People in the industry must pay attention to the fact that stories about African American characters and stories that feature women in the lead roles are desirable for audiences. We want to and need to see them.”

They must also continue paying attention to movements such as #MeToo, which was a response to sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.

“When talking about the awards machine at this time, we must recognize how Harvey Weinstein was a pivotal player in influencing nominations,” she said. “The fact that he was called out this year as a sexual predator, and the machine supporting his behavior has been exposed through the bravery of survivors, is important. So much of the power he wielded was connected to the potential for awards. It is my hope that now that the mechanisms for abuse have been exposed, these systems enabling abuse will be destroyed, which is another reason I look at awards and nominations with care and perspective.”

Giovanna Chesler, a director and producer of documentary films through her production company, G6 Pictures, can be reached at 703-993-6198 or gchesler@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.