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Off the Clock - A Local Perspective on this Year's Oscars: A Conversation with Brian Maurer

Erin McKinstry

The diversity of this year’s Academy Award nominations has not gone unnoticed. In stark contrast to last year, when several prominent people of color boycotted the ceremony because of a lack of diversity, the 2017 picks feature a black nominee in each of the four acting categories and a more diverse set of nominations, from best picture to best documentary.

Brian Maurer, local filmmaker and film studies professor at MU, said the increase in diversity is most likely a reaction to last year’s outcry.

“I'm happy to see quite a few films come through that I wouldn't necessarily would think would've been picked,” he said. “Moonlight, was one that I'm really excited to see.”

Professionals that work in the industry are the ones who vote on the nominations through unions and other voting bodies, he said. “It's not like there's a group of ten middle aged men choosing it.” So, he said, if professionals working in the film industry want more diversity, the nominations will reflect that, but this year’s nominations may be just the beginning of broader cultural shift in Hollywood.

“To have a major shift you have to convince the production houses ultimately, the people who are making these films, what to produce and what to get out there,” he said. “The culture of the country as a whole needs to change so that the industry can change. Because the industry's only going chase the money, ultimately.”

La La Land’s overwhelming critical acclaim reflects that profit-driven culture, Maurer said.

“It’s a lobbyist situation,” he said. “If you haven't been to Los Angeles during Oscar season you should go. Billboards are everywhere, people are solicited with gift baskets to vote for nominations to get them to win.”

He thought highly of the film but doubted that it deserved the record-tying praise.

“Yes, it's a feel-good film and everything was done very well,” he said. “But was it worthy of tying for the all-time record for highest nominations of all film? I don't know that it really qualifies for that.”

The 89th Oscar Awards will be awarded to select films this coming Sunday.