By Caitlin Chappell
An industrialist is held hostage by terrorists and forced to make a weapon of mass destruction, but he escapes and rights the wrongs of his company. A foreign woman leads a military squad to end chemical warfare in WWI Germany. Two retired professors help Mexican children cross the border and avoid persecution from a blond American named Donald.
These movies have two things in common. First, they are superhero movies (“Iron Man,” “Wonder Woman” and “Logan” respectively) and second, they have not been nominated for Best Picture despite widespread positive reception. While these films all have a critic score over 90 percent and a fan score over 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, they are discounted as popcorn entertainment for the masses. This has me asking what Hugh Jackman asked at 81st Academy Awards: “Why are comic book movies never nominated?”
It is not just superheroes that go unrecognized at the Oscars. Genre films, those geared towards entertainment like sci-fi, fantasy and horror, are lucky to be considered for awards outside of technical categories like film editing and visual effects.
These films are not usually recognized by the Academy. In the past 10 years, only 13 out of 76 films nominated for Best Picture were genre films, and only two, “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” and “Silence of the Lambs,” won the award. Despite this, the Academy nominated two genre films for Best Picture this year: “Get Out” and “The Shape of Water.”
“‘The Shape of Water’ is director Guillermo del Toro’s finest film,” the Detroit News said. “A lovely, empathetic tribute to Old Hollywood, monster movies, outsiders and love that could only come from the mind of the visionary filmmaker.”
Along with receiving critical praise, “The Shape of Water” has already won 45 awards as of Feb. 21. “Get Out” surpasses it with 50, making it unsurprisingly the most awarded film this year.
“Peele succeeds where sometimes even more experienced filmmakers fail,” Time Magazine said. “He’s made an agile entertainment whose social and cultural observations are woven so tightly into the fabric that you’re laughing even as you’re thinking, and vice-versa.”
Despite the praises, are these films good enough for The Academy given that genre films have not done well in categories like Best Picture? Films that often win are not typically genre films. They are often films rooted in realism.
While genre films may be unrealistic, they use their fantastical worlds and characters as metaphors to tackle issues related to society, as seen in “The Shape of Water,” which focuses on the relationship between a humanoid sea-creature and a woman who is mute. Best Director nominee Guillermo Del Toro uses this monster-human relationship and the fantastical world as a metaphor for our current troubled times and the experiences of unheard individuals.
“Troubled times back then but some of the themes are very, very relevant today, the ‘otherness’ of it all,” Octavia Spencer said in an interview with Gold Derby. “It’s funny that he wrote two main characters who can’t speak, and then the people he chooses to use as their voice are people who represent very disenfranchised groups, an African American woman and a closeted gay man.”
Characters and worlds like this may be fictitious, but the messages resonate with society. This is seen in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which tackles issues of sexual abuse, and “District 9,” which tackles xenophobia. Genre films are also a platform for the oppressed, as in “Get Out.”
“Get Out” is about a black man who learns that his girlfriend and her family have kidnapped black people so that white people can take over their bodies to improve their lives via the victims’ blackness. The film is overt about its meaning, as is Best Director nominee Jordan Peele.
“What originally started as a movie to combat the lie that America had become post-racial became a movie where the cat is out of bag, and now we’re having this conversation,” Peele said in an interview with the New York Times.
Genre films provide a platform to tackle societal issues and give minorities an opportunity to tell their stories in a fantastical setting.“Thor: Ragnarok” is the first superhero mega-movie directed by an indigenous person; “Wonder Woman” is the first film of the genre directed by a woman. “Get Out” is directed by a black man and “The Shape of Water” is directed by a Latino. The last two are nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. Both films are genre films and deserve the recognition they receive.