Three years ago, the Academy Awards unfolded in its own kind of sunken place, with the #OscarsSoWhite movement calling foul on the awards show’s all-white acting nominees.
Critics quickly placed the blame on the Academy’s older, white voting bloc, with a 2016 Los Angeles Times story reporting the demographics of Oscar voters as 91% Caucasian and 76% male.
Now, following a years-long push by the Academy to add hundreds of younger, more diverse new voters to its ranks, the Oscars are beginning to adapt, continuing the positive momentum generated by Moonlight’s surprise best picture win in 2017 into this year’s awards. Alongside the predominantly white casts of best picture nominees like The Post and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are Daniel Kaluuya, Denzel Washington, Mary J. Blige and Octavia Spencer’s nominations for acting awards, with Guillermo del Toro the front-runner in the directing race.
Yet no nominee better captures the generational shift between the old and new Oscars than Get Out. Nominated for best picture, best actor, best director and best original screenplay, Jordan Peele’s revolutionary work of social satire challenges the idea of what an Oscar movie can be, a subversive treatment of America's "post-racial era" that takes the form of a stingingly funny horror flick.
It's a film that almost certainly would’ve been too radical for Oscar voters of years past, compared to the more traditional Oscars fare among the category’s other nominees, like the war drama Dunkirk and the Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour. Oscar-winning horror movies are few and far between in the awards show's history, and a Get Out win would be a historic moment for the genre. And Get Out isn't just any horror movie, but one that brilliantly illustrates the insidious racism of seemingly well-meaning white people in America.
If the Oscar's more traditionally-minded voters squirmed in their seats while watching the movie's depiction of white, liberal characters, that was the movie's intention, which doesn't necessarily do Peele any favors with the Academy's old-timers. And then, there's the fact that a Get Out sweep would be a historic first for filmmakers of color, making Peele the first black writer to win best original screenplay. (Peele also made history with just the nominations, becoming the first African American to be nominated for best director, best screenplay and best picture in one year.)
Whether Get Out is the kind of movie that deserves to win best picture seems to split Oscar voters along generational lines, according to Vulture’s unofficial survey of anonymous Academy members. Younger voters praise the film as a “masterpiece” while older voters pushed back. “I had multiple conversations with longtime Academy members who were like, ‘That was not an Oscar film,’ ” one new voter told the website. For all of Get Out's critical and commercial successes, scoring breathlessly positive reviews and becoming the third-biggest R-rated horror release in North American box office history, this point, about how Get Out looks and feels different than other best picture winners of the past and is therefore unworthy of the prize, may be what dooms the film's chances on Oscars night.
As the Academy continues to add more young and non-white members with a goal to double the group's diversity by 2020, the influence that more traditionally-minded Oscars voters wield over the nominations will continue to lessen, changing the nature of the winners.. Most likely, viewers won't see a history-making best picture win from Get Out on Sunday night, with Gold Derby's Oscars odds favoring Three Billboards and The Shape of Water. But Get Out's presence in the Oscars race is a promising start, proof that the Academy's diversity push is helping more unconventional films get recognized during Hollywood's biggest nights.
And a win for Get Out, one year after Moonlight's groundbreaking triumph, would mark two years in a row in which the category's best movie, not just the most "Oscars-y" movie, won the night's biggest prize.