Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained: Why the Academy Loves Spielberg and Hates Tarantino

The Academy Award nominations were announced early Thursday morning and Django Unchained, arguably the year’s most controversial film, was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, yet Quentin Tarantino was not nominated for Best Director. Once again, the Academy showed that, in order to maintain credibility and garner publicity, they are willing to nominate controversial products but are not willing to respect a director that isn’t part of their clique.

Look back at Tarantino’s work and you see a remarkable pattern. Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Bastards, both Tarantino films that previously generated Oscar buzz, brought about nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. However, neither time was the famed filmmaker deemed Best Director, although he did win for Best Screenplay for Pulp.

When looking at the British equivalent BAFTA, Tarantino has been nominated for these same three works in the same exact categories, meaning Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Once again, Tarantino’s screenplay won for Pulp but never was he allowed a director’s win. Interestingly, BAFTA at least pretended to put him in contention for Best Director for Django; the Academy didn’t even do that.

So why would the famed awards show be willing to nominate something for Best Film or Best Screenplay but not Best Director? Simply put, because screenplays or films are products, not a person. By nominating these two categories, the Academy is rewarding someone’s work, but not rewarding the individual. Year after year, they nominate certain directors as a formality, but never do they reward them with anything.

But why would the Academy be willing to use someone’s reflected publicity and recognize the merit of their writing or their film without rewarding them personally? Simply put, because that award is reserved for a certain clique.

The Academy’s list of “Award-worthy” directors is dominated by a select few, such as John Ford, Steven Spielberg, and Clint Eastwood. These directors, the Academy is willing to reward as individuals because these men maintain a certain status quo.

John Ford’s movies, as Tarantino himself highlighted, have racism so blatant it can’t even be quantified. Spielberg’s latest work, Lincoln, is content with relegating women to the background and effacing black people completely. It may be a movie about slavery but, as everything from Django Unchained to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass has shown us, slavery could never take away someone’s humanity or subject status; that credit goes only to Spielberg’s film.

Clint Eastwood also seems content with this tradition of regressive filmmaking, as we saw in the movie that won him Best Director, Million Dollar Baby. In that film, Eastwood relegates Morgan Freeman to a supporting role that is essentially absent from the story. Freeman does his trademark narration, but that simply means he is to watch someone else’s story, not play a part in it.

Interestingly, Eastwood followed this up several years later with Gran Torino, an entire movie built around the concept of saving minorities from other minorities, who simply can’t seem to stop in-fighting and ethnic violence. Tellingly, perhaps, this image of “the uncivilized foreigner” was the original argument used to justify imperialism.

So the Academy cannot give Best Director to Tarantino. The Academy cannot recognize Tarantino’s personal brilliance because he repeatedly crafts stories where gender reversals (Kill Bill), race rejection (Django Unchained, Jackie Brown) and the absurdity of societal norms (Pulp Fiction) are all challenged. The Academy cannot recognize Tarantino’s brilliance without rejecting all the things their beloved directors put forth, so they instead award his product without awarding him personally.

The Academy also snubbed personal awards for Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow. Affleck has made far too much popcorn entertainment in the past to earn the Academy’s approval while Bigelow is neither the age nor the gender of their frequent winners. Tellingly, former winner Alan Arkin gets another personal nod for Best Supporting Actor in Argo; don’t say there isn’t a certain favoritism.

The Academy is intelligent enough to nominate screenplays and films in order to maintain some semblance of credibility and feed off the reflected publicity. However, when it comes to rewarding people, the Academy makes sure to protect a certain clique, one that makes regressive films and maintains the image that they want to promote.

Jim Carrey, not part of the Academy’s exclusive group because of his “dumb” movies, once criticized the Academy’s selection process after a glaring snub for The Truman Show. That he has not won anything since, even after his dazzling performances in Man on the Moon and I Love You, Phillip Morris, should tell you just how much the Oscars care for legitimate art.

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Abdul R. Siddiqui

Abdul is a graduate of CUNY Baruch, as part of the Macaulay Honors program. He has interned with the New York City Housing Authority, Macaulay, and PolicyMic. He currently contributes to PolicyMic, DramaFever, and NewLogical.

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