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And the Oscar Goes to... a White Person

The Internet erupted Thursday morning when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released its nominations for this year’s Oscars. The Feb. 22 ceremony will feature the least racially diverse acting lineup in 17 years, due partly to its snubs of Selma. The historical drama about Martin Luther King Jr.'s march from Selma to Montgomery was nominated only for Best Picture and Best Original Song—a combination that’s probably never been seen before in Oscar history. The Academy liked Selma enough to call it one of the best eight movies of the year, but didn’t like anything that went into making the movie: directing, acting, writing, cinematography, costume design, you name it. Oh, and cool song at the end, guys.

The most notable snub of the morning was Ava DuVernay’s. The Selma director was widely expected to become the first black woman nominated for Best Director (and the fifth woman ever), but her omission is not without precedent. Before her, eight women were denied a directing nod even though their movies were named best picture. It may be that DuVernay’s omission could propel the movie’s Oscar campaign the same way Ben Affleck’s directing snub two years ago propelled Argo to Best Picture. But Argo had seven nominations total, and won two other categories. Selma, with two nominations, might be too marginalized.

This year’s nominees are also notable for how little money they’ve made. The eight movies have grossed a total of $203 million; Gravity, one of last year’s nominees, made $274 million on its own. The highest grossing nominee this year is indie darling Grand Budapest Hotel. Of course, an Oscar nod is a box office boost, and more people will go see these movies now, but the lack of blockbusters proves that expanding the Best Picture category six years ago isn't working as expected. When the Academy allowed up to 10 nominated films, a prevailing belief was that this would allow more populist films like The Dark Knight to be recognized. But instead prestige indies like Whiplash, which has only grossed $6 million, are being recognized. 

Once upon a time, a film directed by a black man and starring a predominantly black cast was nominated nine times by the Academy. It won Best Picture, and its lead actress and screenwriter, both of them black, took home golden statuettes. The film, of course, was 12 Years a Slave, which won those Oscars just last year. Today, it feels like forever ago.