The Academy Awards made history this season with Get Out’s nomination, a movie committed to using tropes of the Academy’s notoriously-hated genres, horror and comedy, to address race relations in America. In a world where streaming services are rapidly democratizing — or ruining, depending on who you ask — cinema, the film’s nomination is proof that the Academy is trying to keep up with a culture most of its members are desperately out of touch with.
Unfortunately, the exclusion of The Florida Project from nearly every single category shows that they still have a bad habit of overlooking lms that are on the cutting edge of cinema.
The Florida Project focuses on six-year-old Moonee’s time living in the Magic Castle, a motel that is inhabited by the poorest of the poor and located right near Disney World. Throughout the film, Moonee makes mischief under the watch of the motel’s owner, played by Willem Dafoe in a Best Supporting Actor-nominated role.
Director Sean Baker is most known for Tangerine, a groundbreaking iPhone-shot journey into the lives of two transgender sex workers that is much more than the sum of its supposed gimmicks. For his entire career, he has been making movies about destitute people that Americans would like to forget exist; whether they be immigrants, prostitutes, or the “white trash” denizens of the sun-bleached Magic Castle. The Florida Project is the ultimate antidote to poverty tourism in cinema, depicting its protagonists as complex people trying to navigate their tough lives while having fun doing so. Baker’s films have a recurring theme of poverty forcing people to act in bizarre and morally questionable ways, and what makes them truly remarkable is that they stress that the sympathy we extend to those less fortunate than us should not start and end with how morally upright they are.
The Florida Project is a part of a new wave of lms that forgo overly sentimental or austere depictions of poverty for the ecstatic truth — soaked in neon colors and full of genuine love for its inhabitants, they are films about poor people that are not “films about poverty.” While The Florida Project and similar films like Good Time and American Honey have been hits among critics and film fans alike, their exclusion from the Academy Awards has been baffling.
So while this season’s Best Picture lineup features a film about the many forms racism can take, a film that wants to make America believe in journalists again, and a film about two men falling in love, none of these movies explicitly address class in any meaningful way. America is a nation more divided by class than ever, and when the Academy seems to function more as a group that awards films on how relevant they are to the Western world than the state of cinema itself, this feels like a major mistake.
Honestly, the Academy nominating a movie for Best Picture doesn’t really matter all that much in terms of artistic fulfillment. A film is a film no matter how many awards it wins. However, as Moonlight’s Best Picture win and Get Out’s nomination prove, the Oscars is by far the best way for a film, a director, an idea, or an artistic movement to make a cultural impact. The Florida Project is a movie that captures the imperfect existence of Americans who are often demonized or valorized to the point of inhumanity. By not nominating it for Best Picture, the Academy is doing a disservice to a society that is rapidly closing itself off to realities that don’t resemble its own.