An Oscar Update: How Do Elections Influence The Oscar Race?

As of today, it seems more than likely that Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump to become the next President of the United States. While there are still Supreme Court battles to be fought, the only people fighting this projection are the current President and a few ardent supporters. One thing we haven’t discussed in great detail on this site (due to my aversion/loathing to discussing politics at all costs) is the effect Presidential Elections have on the Oscar race. After all, the outcomes shift moods towards almost every aspect of culture, why would the Oscars be any different? So the question remains: how will a Joe Biden win affect the mindsets of 10,000 center-left white Baby Boomers? (Ok, demographics are changing, but still, the average Academy voter is somewhere between Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman).

Let’s use 2016 as an example. In 2016, the Academy was in a rough place – they’d just been condemned for focusing solely on films by and about white people, and in the wake of the Donald Trump’s victory, there was general confusion over the direction our country was headed in. Now, unlike 2017 and 2018, none of these films could have been a direct rebuke of Trump or his policies – he hadn’t been around long enough, and it takes time to make a movie. So their votes had to be solely symbolic. We saw an influx of Black nominees and films, and Moonlight pulled off the upset over frontrunner La La Land. La La Land won six Oscars that night, thanks to its feel-good escapist message. Would it have done as well if people weren’t in need of some cheer? Could Moonlight, a film about a young gay Black boy living in poverty and dealing with the goings-on often ignored by government officials, have won if it wasn’t seen as a message of love in the face of Mr. “Bring Back The Death Penalty To Deal With These Thugs?” It’s unclear, but that is what happened and it’s what we have to ask ourselves. Similar scenarios can be traced back over the last few election cycles. In 2012, the Academy awarded a feel-good film about effective government leaders (and a rebuke of war with Iran) in Argo after Obama’s reelection. In the most egregious move of all, 2008 saw the victory of a film about a plucky underdog rising to national glory in Slumdog Millionaire. In fact, these types of scenarios can trace all the way back to the 60s, when Nixon won on a platform of “Back To The Good Old Days” and the ancient Oscar voters awarded Oliver, followed shortly by New Hollywood’s critique of Old Hollywood and the Good Old Days in The Godfather the following election. No matter how you slice it, politics matters.

So how does that affect the ever-changing Oscar race, which I haven’t written about in a few months? Well, it certainly affects how we see our frontrunner. Last time I covered the race, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was still my frontrunner. Do I believe Da 5 Bloods still has a shot? Yes I do. But is the film, a rebuke of international politics and racial division over the last 50 years, as well as a grappling with the concept of the Black Trump voter (this election shows there’s somewhere between 5% and 20% of them out there), still as relevant as it was a few days ago? It’s hard to say. The Trial of the Chicago 7 faces a similar battle: it deals with goodness earning moral victories over a corrupt Administration, but will it be as timely without a Nixon mirror in the White House who openly calls for police to be harsher on protesters (as opposed to out potentially next president who says “Sweep the leg” instead)? Its chances are on the fence.

Surely Hillbilly Elegy is out – its trailer implies a sloppy actors’ play, and Oscar voters will no longer feel the call to investigate what inspires a small-town American to vote for Donald Trump (they likely won’t think of small-town Americans again until the next time a bunch of “flyover” states decide the fate of the election). And what about One Night In Miami…? Will voters feel as inclined to nominate an all-Black film about the struggle for Black celebrities to put their careers on the line for the sake of progress (although they may feel drawn to the message of “Stand Up For Something”)? Who’s to say? If I had to guess, the two safest films are the already presumed frontrunners: Nomadland and Mank. Both films are apolitically political, admitting that no matter who’s in power the average American still has to battle through. Also benefiting are films that are mostly about the Human Condition in one way or another, like Minari’s touching look at the American Dream through the eyes of immigrants, The Father’s weepy look at dementia, and even Disney’s Soul and its quest to determine what makes a good life. And I haven’t even touched on the Documentary categories, which now have to decide if they want to look to the future, with films like Crip Camp, Boys State, and The Dissident, or if they’d like to reward films that “had a role” in changing the political landscape, like Totally Under Control, All In: The Fight For Democracy, and beyond.

So that’s where we are. I’ve adjusted my Oscar predictions based on the election results and the ever-shifting landscape of the race. You can see my new Top 9 below, and I have updated the Best Picture predictions accordingly. Tune in soon for a look at Best Director and the Oscar races. We still have time before the April ceremony, folks, but until then, let’s look on the bright side of things, shall we?

  1. Nomadland
  2. Mank
  3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
  4. Da 5 Bloods
  5. One Night In Miami…
  6. Judas and the Black Messiah
  7. Soul
  8. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  9. The Father

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