Could "Precious" director break Oscar barrier?

Wed Jan 13, 2010 12:02am EST
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By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Oscars aren't about celebrating diversity. That job falls to more special-interest kudos-fests including the NAACP Image Awards, the Imagen Awards, the GLAAD Media Awards and the Multicultural Motion Picture Assn.

True, when the Oscars have singled out minorities, it's made for some of the show's most heartfelt moments: Halle Berry's emotional acceptance in 2002 when she became the first black woman to be named best actress, for "Monster's Ball," or Denzel Washington's second Oscar win, for "Training Day" in 2002, when he saluted that year's honorary Oscar winner Sidney Poitier.

But when it comes to the status of women and minorities in Hollywood, Oscars only can reflect the reality on the ground: While commentators regularly pore over the Academy's annual list of nominees in search of people of color, it's really the film industry's fault when they fail to materialize. For, particularly behind the camera, the industry has been slow to diversify, and it's that reality that is reflected in the Academy's nominations.

This year, though, the Directors Guild of America already has broken ground by nominating Lee Daniels and Kathryn Bigelow for its feature directing award. Daniels ("Precious") is the first African-American to be nominated in that category, and Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") is only the seventh woman.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean the Academy will follow suit. Although the DGA has a good track record for predicting the eventual Oscar best director, the Academy's directors' branch doesn't always follow the DGA's lead when it comes to choosing five nominees.

One major difference between the groups: The 14,000-member DGA includes not only film and TV directors but also unit production managers and assistant directors. It tends to be more populist than the more-exclusive directors branch, which has just 366 members.

As a result, some DGA nominations aren't echoed by the Academy. Last year, for example, the DGA nominated Christopher Nolan for "The Dark Knight," but the Academy balked. Other recent examples of DGA nominees failing to go on to score Academy noms include Sean Penn ("Into the Wild"), Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris ("Little Miss Sunshine") and Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls").

One rule of thumb subscribed to by longtime Academy watchers is that the directors branch is an exclusive and self-protective club slow to welcome new members. It's as if this group of top directors subconsciously asks itself, "Am I ready to see Nominee X win the big award?" before they bestow a nomination.   Continued...