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The Academy could benefit from Big Jo March Energy and value Hollywood’s little women

Would it be too much for the Academy to recognize Greta Gerwig and a woman’s mind?

The Academy could learn big lessons from Hollywood's little women

Louisa May Alcott knew the world was hard on ambitious girls.

She wrote as much in her 1868 classic, “Little Women.” The book about the March sisters of Concord, Mass., is a coming of age story not just about sisters, but about agency and dreams and a woman’s worth.

And in all of the book’s many film adaptations, director Greta Gerwig may have given us the one we need most. There is nuance, there is grace, sisterhood, and hustle, and in Saoirse Ronan, we have the most Jo Marchiest of every Jo March we’ve seen thus far. Jo March Energy isn’t here for sexism.


The Academy could learn big lessons from Hollywood's little women

The film opened Christmas Day to largely sold-out theaters, and over this past weekend it crossed the $100 million mark globally. And on Monday, when the Academy announced its nominees, “Little Women” nabbed six Oscar nominations including best picture, best adapted screenplay, best leading actress, and best supporting actress.

Some would call it a win. But “Joker” landed 11 nods, with “1917,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “The Irishman” snagging 10.

The Academy doesn’t care about inclusion. It’s literally the old wheelhouse of Harvey Weinstein and his notorious Oscar campaigns.

Four years after #OscarsSoWhite, after the Academy pledged to double its women and people of color, progress looks like an Academy that is 68 percent male and 84 percent white. This ain’t built for us.

So am I shocked Lupita Nyong’o was snubbed for her mind-bending dual role in “Us”? Nah.

The Academy could learn big lessons from Hollywood's little women

Is Jennifer Lopez being left out as a lead contender for “Hustlers” and Awkwafina being overlooked for “The Farewell" a surprise? Absolutely not.

“Queen & Slim” and “Just Mercy” being locked out? Expected it.

Eddie Murphy not getting his propers for “Dolemite Is My Name"? He told us how the Oscars roll in ’88.


Beyoncé getting ignored for best song (“Spirit”)? Fine, I’m a little surprised.

But we know shutting out diverse storytelling is the gold statue standard. When it comes to the 2020 Oscars, we’re lucky to see “Parasite,” with six nominations, make history by becoming the first South Korean movie to be nominated for best picture and best international film. And Cynthia Erivo, up for best leading actress for “Harriett", is the lone nonwhite actor nominated.

We’re 92 years in and it’s undeniable that the Oscars is a white man’s house willing to rarely crack the window and acknowledge his neighbors.

But a director has to all but smash the seal and tear out the frame. Spike Lee only got his recognition last year. They snubbed Ava DuVernay for “Selma" in 2015. And yes, this year, Bong Joon-ho is up for a director’s nom. A feat for sure. But why is this category all male and mainly white, year after year?

After announcing the director nominations Monday morning, Issa Rae said with just the right combo of cynicism and spice, “Congratulations to those men.”

I feel her. I knew my faves, particularly Melina Matsoukas for “Queen & Slim,” would be ignored. Alma Har’el has been outspoken about the snubs for “Honey Boy." And Lulu Wang for “The Farewell” and Lorene Scafaria for “Hustlers” deserve their nods, too.

The Academy could learn big lessons from Hollywood's little women

But Gerwig? She’s one of only five women to ever nab a best director nomination (“Lady Bird”). Even though she didn’t win the 2018 prize, I guess I thought “Little Women” would at least land her a nod.


First, it is one of the best films of 2019. Period. Second, she directed it beautifully. Third, with most of the Academy’s cinematic celebration centering whiteness, “Little Women” is by a white woman and stars white women, in 1800s Massachusetts of all places.

What went wrong?

The story is nuanced enough to allow many girls and women to relate because we are all bonded in the sense that we are expected to be less than, to not belong to ourselves, and “Little Women” does not care to be anyone’s little woman. This film amplifies characters who do not fear the patriarchy; these ambitious girls confront the world. They are encouraged to dream for theirselves and love themselves.

Maybe that’s too much for the Academy to digest. It’s hard for me to understand how they could note the movie as one of the best pictures, best screenplays, best lead and supporting actress, best score, and best costume only to ignore the architect who helped curate it all?

The director, the person driving a film’s creative magic, making the important decisions, is how you get a best film nod in the first place. But it seems to me the film industry looks at female directors the way the world of football once looked at black quarterbacks: as if they were impossible.

The Academy could learn big lessons from Hollywood's little women

But a white, racist, and largely male construct stealing the shine of others so they can bask in the light and control where it lands is how the patriarchy operates.


For too long, the Academy has not valued people of color or those who identify as girls and women and them. But we’re starting to recognize our value outside of their constructs.

Gerwig’s “Little Women” ends with Jo March negotiating a book deal. She refuses to give up her copyright. She owns her vision. She demands more money. She knows her worth.

And we know ours. With or without a nomination, we see us. As for Oscar — we’re bored of him.

The Academy could learn big lessons from Hollywood's little women

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.