Two years ago, the big story around the Academy Awards was #OscarsSoWhite. Twenty years ago, nearly all the nominees belonged to films that were either produced or distributed by major Hollywood studio-corporations. With the Oscar nominations of 2018, both those narratives look like they are on their way to being passé. There are signs that the future of big-screen entertainment is set to follow the trend set in motion by serialised television viewing.
In the Best Director category, both Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig are first-time directors. In Get Out, Peele explores themes of race through an unlikely medium — a seemingly mainstream thriller. Gerwig tells the love story of a young girl in Lady Bird but the primary plot mover in the film is the protagonist’s relationship with her mother. That a woman and a black man are nominees after a year when issues of race and gender have been centrestage in the US’s political discourse speaks to how cinema and its stalwarts are responding to and engaging with the political questions of their time. Netflix, the online media behemoth, has done well too, gathering eight nominations, including four for its feature-length historical drama, Mudbound, that many mainstream studios reportedly turned down.
Across cinema cultures, including in India, the argument against diversity and experimentation has hinged on the perception that they do not make sense as a business proposition. To fill seats across theatres and cultures, the argument went, you needed faces and plots that could appeal to a wide demographic. Hence, the white protagonist in Hollywood, and the uncontroversial lack of identity that has been the hallmark of the Vijays and Rahuls in Bollywood. With the rise and recognition of filmmakers like Peele and Gerwig, as well as the fact that online distribution platforms can reach so-called “niche” audiences, the old model is set to be a thing of the past. Large sections of appointment viewers have already moved online with web series providing a much-needed antidote to the staleness of TV. In 2018, it looks like cinema may be ready to follow suit.