For the second year in a row, women and minorities will be woefully underrepresented at the Oscars. Given the Academy Awards' historical lack of diversity, this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. In the 76 years since Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Mammy in Gone With the Wind, only 13 more African-Americans have been awarded acting Oscars. In the entire history of the ceremony, only three African-Americans and four women have been nominated for best director. So while this year's white male-dominated nominations shouldn't come as a surprise – it's 2016, so they still kind of do.
The Rev. Al Sharpton will be in town on Sunday to lead a protest near the corner of Hollywood and Highland, and in living rooms all over the country people will be more quietly opting out by hosting #AltOscarParties. The woman behind the hashtag is Tema Staig, a production designer and the faculty sponsor of Women in Media at L.A. Film School. Hosting an #AltOscarParty is as simple as watching films made by women and people of color – and snacks don’t hurt. In terms of her diversity activism, gender parity in the film industry in particular is her cause.
"I’m a production designer and art director, and I found it was tedious when I was the only woman on the tech team," Staig says. "Then I’d get thrown some shade when I made a decision. I’d like to see more women getting hired. You have equal numbers of women coming out of film schools, but it’s hard to get hired beyond indie level. We’re not valued to the same degree as men. That isn't cool."
This is the second year Staig is pushing the #AltOscarParty hashtag, which is now complemented by #OscarsSoWhite and its companion, #OscarsSoMale. Via Twitter, Women in Media is encouraging people to use the hashtag to share which films they plan to watch while the Oscars are airing and to live-tweet their evenings.
"I can tell you what I’m doing," Staig says. "I've invited a few friends over to my house, I’m gonna put out some food and we're going to have Champagne and we’re going to watch Meadowland, which is by Reed Morano [who directed and served as d.p.]. We’re going to watch that and live-tweet it. We’re going to have fun; it’s a celebration of women in film and diversity."
Here are some other recent films suggested by Staig and by #AltOscarParty revelers on Twitter:
It was written and directed by a man (Sean Baker), but it has strong performances by two black, trans actresses, making it a rarity among critically acclaimed films. Critic Stephanie Zacharek says: "Tangerine's a comedy, of course, laced with rambunctious, exuberantly ragged dialogue. But by the end, Baker and his actors have led us to a place beyond comedy – you may still be laughing, but your breath catches a little on the way out. Tangerine is lovely that way. Baker is careful to make sure that what people do is always secondary to who they are."
Staig says she was disappointed last award season to hear at least one colleague (a man and an academy member) dismiss Ava Duvernay's Martin Luther King biopic as resembling a "movie of the week." She strongly disagreed with that assessment – and so did our reviewer. Critic Zacharek called it "quietly remarkable," "meticulously detailed" and "the right movie for the right moment."
Welcome to Me
Directed by Shira Piven and starring Kristen Wiig as a mentally unstable woman who uses the bulk of her lottery winnings to buy her own television show – about herself. Critic Alan Scherstuhl called the movie "messy," but added that it's also "funny, pungent and sympathetic to the struggles of the borderline, the bipolar, or whatever inexact term is used today for functioning people sometimes at odds with their own minds."
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The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Written and directed by Marielle Heller, and based on Phoebe Gloekner's semiautobiographical novel, it's a Lolita-esque story told from the refreshing point of view of the young woman in question. It landed at 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for a slew of Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
A deeply moving documentary about Nina Simone. Critic Alan Scherstuhl praised director Liz Garbus, saying, "Garbus knows that the best films about musicians are about presence and music and unknowable personal complexities rather than redemptive arcs and pat explanations. She gives us time with Simone, excerpts her diaries and letters and immerses us in the music. The tragedy is that everything in the film feels entirely of the now: South Carolina, goddam!"
And some additional suggestions from Women in Media ...