After a year at the movies that broke so many barriers for women and diverse filmmakers, the Oscar nominations on Monday morning felt in some ways like they were still stuck in the past. And the Academy, which has been slow to embrace change, missed multiple opportunities to celebrate truly deserving artists while also making history.
For example, if Awkwafina had been nominated for “The Farewell,” she would have been the first Asian American actress ever recognized in the best actress race in the 92 years of the Academy Awards. (It’s unbelievable that that’s a real statistic.) Or, alternatively, if Greta Gerwig had been championed for directing “Little Women,” she would have been the first woman director to crack the category for a second time in her career. (Two years ago, she landed a spot — as the fifth woman director in history — for making “Lady Bird.”)
But for me, and much of Twitter, the snub that stung the most was the Oscars overlooking Jennifer Lopez for “Hustlers.” And don’t blame Lopez or STX Entertainment, the distributor behind the film set in a New York strip club at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. They ran a smooth and effective campaign, as Lopez gamely posed for magazine shoots, attended the Palm Springs Film Festival gala and hosted “Saturday Night Live” while voters were considering their favorite performances of the year.
Instead, Oscars voters seemed to say they didn’t care that “Hustlers” was a huge hit and that Lopez gave a career-best performance in it. And here are five reasons why that’s bad news for the Academy Awards.
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1. A nomination for “Hustlers” would have been a boost for original storytelling.
The most common gripe about Hollywood is that there are too few original ideas — everything is a sequel or a reboot nowadays. “Hustlers,” directed by Lorene Scafaria, was that rare thing: an original story that captured the zeitgeist in the same way as an HBO series that everybody is talking about. The movie was required viewing when it opened in September, grossing more than $100 million at the box office. And a big part of the reason behind that was J. Lo’s performance as Ramona, the ringleader of a club of dancers, a cross between a mother hen and a mob boss.
2. “Hustlers” was a celebration of female empowerment.
There are other stories with commercial appeal in the best picture race. “Joker,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Ford v Ferrari” also joined the $100 million movie club, and “1917” and “Little Women” are well on their way. But “Hustlers” was unique in that it’s one of the only original stories of the year told through a female gaze. It didn’t judge its female protagonists or diminish them based on their occupations, in the same way that “The Wolf of Wall Street” elevated its male antiheroes. And that movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, was a major Oscars contender.
3. 2020 is the Year of J. Lo
The Oscars proved just how unhip they are by not honoring one of the most exciting performers of the past 12 months. In previous Oscars seasons, voters managed to reward movie star reinventions, such as Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich,” Renee Zellweger in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” or Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side.” What J. Lo does in “Hustlers” is just as impressive. And it comes during a time, where (at 50) she’s soaring in every other aspect of her career, from selling out arenas during her “It’s My Party” tour to performing as the halftime act at this year’s Super Bowl. Wouldn’t it have been great promotion for the Oscars to have her at the telecast a week later?
4. Were voters scared of the sex?
In talking to awards strategist and voters, there’s a lot of coded language about why Lopez didn’t get nominated. But it boils down to: “Hustlers” is a movie where women use their bodies for personal (and criminal) gain. And Lopez’s lack of a nomination speaks to a trend in Hollywood where sex no longer sells on the big screen, as we’re drowning in Disney reboots and comic-book sequels. Sex has migrated to TV, which is a strange phenomenon when you think about how the reverse was true 30 years ago.
5. The J. Lo snub isn’t just about J. Lo.
It’s about the Oscars looking down on a movie that should have been invited to the club. If “Hustlers” was about men, or directed by Scorsese, I find it hard to believe that it wouldn’t be among this year’s best picture nominees, and of course its star would be nominated. But then again, the Oscars also failed to nominate Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems” or Lupita Nyong’o in “Us,” two other performances that represented “big movie moments” in 2019. If the Academy Awards want to stay relevant, they don’t need to nominate every hit movie. But they need to start recognizing artistic achievements that move the needle for the industry. In 2020, “Hustlers” is exactly the kind of film that should have a seat at the Academy Awards.