It is no surprise that the Oscars are a declining institution; the Academy's taste is suspect and its judgment far from the final word. Which is why I've always hesitated to join in with #OscarsSoWhite. Not because I don't agree with the argument. Facts are facts: in the 87 years the Academy has given out awards, there've been only 32 African-American winners out of 2,900 candidates. I've hesitated because it implies that the Academy Awards matter more than they do.
But this year is different than all the others. Because this year, of all twenty actor nominations in the four main categories—best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress— there were not one was for a black actor, male or female. I guess that it is conceivable for there to be years when, through sheer randomness, there are no Oscar-worthy performances by African-American actors. But in 2016, we had Creed, Straight Outta Compton, and above all else, Beasts of No Nation. So the situation is just too absurd not to be infuriating.
Removing the question of race entirely for a moment: the Academy's failure to recognize Idris Elba's performance in Beasts is one of the most outrageous snubs in the history of the Oscars. There have been others that have shocked me more on purely aesthetic grounds—Robert Redford in All is Lost, which to me was one of the great performances of one of the greatest actors in the history of film. But All is Lost was a small film that didn't garner much attention, and it was understandable that the hermetically sealed world of Academy judges would miss it. This is not the case with Beasts of No Nation, which was released with a huge amount of attention on Netflix to a wide audience.
Go and see Beasts immediately if you have not yet, but let's just be clear about why Elba's performance was not just one of the year's best, but specifically Academy-worthy. Elba made the aesthetic decision to use his immense talent in the service of a vile character. At one point, he sexually abuses the boy-soldier who is at the center of the film. In another scene, he shows the boy how to kill with a machete. These are unforgettable moments, and they are hugely risky for a guy who could basically wait around to be named the next James Bond. It was a dangerous, risky performance with a powerful political message—traditionally the absolute sweet spot for Academy Award nominations. Which is what makes his snubbing borderline bizarre.
But "bizarre" is obviously not the correct adjective in this case. At some point you have to ask yourself, what is the difference between Idris Elba and the actors who have been nominated? And I'm afraid there's really only one attribute that stands out. Not the talent. Not the choice of roles. Not the dedication to the craft. Not the performance.
Follow Marie Claire on Instagram for the latest celeb news, pretty pics, funny stuff, and an insider POV.