This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
In one sudden moment on Sunday afternoon, my body was jarred into a sharp, breathless stillness. My eyes went wide. I gasped. A frightful feeling flooded over me, a ghostly premonition that spread like a virus until the darkness threatened to crush me. It arrived so fast, so overwhelmingly: “Jennifer Lopez might not get an Oscar nomination for Hustlers.”
I took to social media at once. It was Sunday, the holy day. Head to church, I pleaded. Light a candle for Ms. Jennifer Lynn Lopez. Pray for the woman who brought life to Ramona, so that she might win the recognition she deserves. For what other reason does religion exist, if not for this?
Well, it turns out that not enough gays go to mass—or God is a big Clint Eastwood fan—because that snub I so feared happened. When the nominations were announced Monday, Lopez’s omission was arguably the biggest talking point.
This is all hyperbolic, of course. I mean, yes, I haven’t quite shaken my disappointment that Lopez was overlooked, most likely in favor of Richard Jewell’s Kathy Bates, for her sensational, career-best, capital-M Movie Star performance in Hustlers.
Forget that her first scene, stripping to “Criminal” by Fiona Apple, immediately joins the ranks of most iconic film entrances in history.
Forget that what she accomplishes on the pole is a feat of athleticism and dedicated training on par with any actor or actress who won an Oscar for learning to dance, play a sport, master an instrument, or transform their body.
Forget how nimbly she balanced Ramona’s swagger and confidence with her bruised vulnerability and desire for familial love and connection.
What I also haven’t gotten over is the optics of why Lopez was overlooked, and what that means.
This year’s Oscar nominations contained a shameful lack of race and gender diversity, a stained reflection of a remarkable year for performances by people of color, films directed and written by women, and stories centered on female experiences.
Lopez’s inclusion in Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars was never guaranteed, even after she scored every important precursor nod and her revelatory work became one of award season’s biggest talking points. Hers was one of the only contending performances in the category from a film that wasn’t considered a frontrunner for any other nominations.
That in itself is an issue. Lorene Scafaria’s film should have been considered seriously across the board. At its core, it’s a Scorsesian crime thriller, the kind that would have been all over the nominations list had it been directed by a man. Because it was helmed by a woman, it was likely dismissed as “that stripper movie.” I’d venture that many voters didn’t bother to watch.
There’s a misogynistic hypocrisy here.
Strippers and sex workers have long been reliable tickets to Oscar nods, so long as they’re portrayed through the male gaze. A piece literally titled “Play a Hooker and Win an Oscar” was published in The New York Times in 1996. Since then, 10 more actresses were nominated for playing a stripper or sex worker, all in films directed by men.
That not only Hustlers, but The Farewell, Clemency, Booksmart, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire were snubbed entirely by the Oscars is important. It drives me crazy when people scoff that the Oscars have no taste, so who cares, why should we care what they think matters, etc.
It matters what the standard bearers of a multi-billion-dollar industry that drives cultural conversation and progress deems worthy. It matters what an institution that influences every decision made in that industry deems valuable, when that infiltrates hiring decisions, storytelling decisions, financial decisions, and visibility decisions. When we want our culture and concerns reflected and validated, it matters when that does not happen.
Lopez’s snub is disappointing to a fan. But it also matters. If you need me, I’ll be climbing into mama’s fur for comfort.