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Shape Of Water,’ ‘Get Out’ Highlight Diverse Academy Awards Ballot

Could this be the most diverse pool of nominees in Oscar history?

Photo caption: Can Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" overcome recent accusations of ...

Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Can Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" overcome recent accusations of plagiarism to take the top prize at the 90th Academy Awards? Actresses Sally Hawkins, left, and Octavia Spencer are both up for awards.

GUESTS:

Yazdi Pithavala, Moviewallas podcaster

Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic

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This Sunday will mark the 90th Academy Awards. After battling #OscarSoWhite for the past few years, the Academy is serving up what may be its most diverse pool of nominees ever.

This year you can find a woman (Greta Gerwig, "Lady Bird"), an African American (Jordan Peele, "Get Out") and a Latino (Guillermo del Toro, "The Shape of Water") all nominated for best director.

You can also find four black performers (Denzel Washington, Daniel Kaluuya, Octavia Spencer, Mary J. Blige) up for acting awards. And the first time ever, there is a female nominee, Rachel Morrison, up for best cinematography.

But the big question is, will any of these nominees actually walk away with the gold this year?

And that is the real issue. The Academy may be serving up a more diverse pool of talent, but has Hollywood really made any changes? Asians complain that they have been left out of this year's diversity pool. Plus, if you are a motion capture actor like Andy Serkis, or a creature suit actor like Doug Jones, you are feeling once again completely shut out from the acting awards.

The Academy has been on a mission to purge some of the old, white and male members and invite younger and more diverse people to fill the ranks. Those new voters might have been more open to films such as "Lady Bird" and "Get Out."

At this point, "The Shape of Water" looks like the film to beat. It garnered 13 nominations and has been racking up awards and accolades from around the world. On a certain level, it best represents the kind of diversity the Academy is trying to promote and embrace. It is directed by a Latino, co-written by a woman, has diversity in its characters (a mute woman, a black, a gay and even an amphibious man), and blends a variety of cinematic styles.

But it has to overcome a recent series of plagiarism accusations (one dismissed, one merely raised, and one being legally pursued), and the fact that it did not receive a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) ensemble nomination. Only one film ("Braveheart") has overcome this, and that's probably because it was directed by an actor (Mel Gibson). You see, actors comprise the Academy's largest branch, and they vote for films that showcase actors in both performances and the director's chair (Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, Woody Allen, Robert Redford).

It is odd that "The Shape of Water," with its exceptional cast, did not receive an ensemble nomination. But perhaps SAG didn't like seeing an actor hidden in a creature costume or a lead role where the character did not speak.

Photo caption: Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand squared off onscreen in "Three Billboards ...

Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand squared off onscreen in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and both are up for acting Oscars at the 90th Academy Awards.

And this leads us to the film that might steal Best Picture from "The Shape of Water," and that's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." This film did receive a SAG ensemble nomination because the film is a showcase for the actors and the lead role was specifically written for actress Frances McDormand. Actors love that. And all of the roles in "Three Billboards" were multi-dimensional and involved a major shift or surprise.

But — before you lay your bets on "Three Billboards" — know that it too has an obstacle possibly blocking it from the gold. The film's director, Martin McDonagh, failed to get a best director nomination, and that's a major handicap. The film also experienced a Twitter backlash during the Golden Globe Awards when it picked up wins and people tweeted that an award was just given to a "racist" when Sam Rockwell won for best supporting actor. Apparently, these people had a problem differentiating between the actor and the role he was playing. There were also some complaints about Frances McDormand not taking her time at the podium for her win as best actress to give a shout out to the #MeToo movement. At a time when social media seems to be playing a big role, those kinds of backlashes, no matter how unfair, can have an influence.

The Twitter response to Gary Oldman winning a Golden Globe for best actor for "Darkest Hour" was to remind people about accusations against him for domestic abuse. Allegations of sexual misconduct seemed to have cost James Franco a nomination for "The Disaster Artist." But Oldman has a long string of strong performances to bolster his nomination, and the Academy does love a blustery historical performance under lots of makeup.

Photo caption: Actor Daniel Kaluuya takes direction from Jordan Peele on the set of "Get Out."

Photo credit: Universal

Actor Daniel Kaluuya takes direction from Jordan Peele on the set of "Get Out."

Jordan Peele is the first African American to receive nominations for best picture, best director and best original screenplay for his feature debut "Get Out." But the film failed to garner any technical category nominations, and that is a strike against the film winning best picture or director. But hopefully, his highly original screenplay will rise to the top of its category.

And one final note, Roger Deakins is up for his 14th best cinematography award, and he has lost all previous bids. This year he is up for "Blade Runner 2049" and will face the first woman ever to be nominated in the category, Rachel Morrison for "Mudbound." Will he be a bridesmaid yet again or will the 14th nomination be the charm?

The 90th Academy Awards airs at 5 p.m., Sunday, on ABC, with Jimmy Kimmel returning as host.

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