Uh-oh, here they come again, that most annoying of Oscar problems, the Old White Men.
While I was worrying about something else on Tuesday, someone recalled that John Lee Hancock’s The Founder, starring Michael Keaton, is set for an Academy Awards qualifying run on Dec. 16, prior to its wider release by the Weinstein Company in January.
Hancock, the film’s director, will turn 60 the day before. Keaton, Oscar-nominated for Birdman in 2015, is already 65. For the record, Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of his eponymous company, is 64, just a little younger than I am. The film, which screened for a few prying eyes when Weinstein was considering a release earlier this year, is strong; and Keaton was pretty much born to play its lead character, the McDonald’s Corp. kingpin and semi-evil genius Ray Kroc, who died in 1984 at the age of 81.
So The Founder will dump still more aging white talent into an Oscar season that is supposed to be a showcase for Hollywood’s new-found commitment to diversity.
In truth, there’s little risk that the Academy Awards, set for Feb. 26, will echo the last two years, when almost exclusively white nominations in the acting and directing categories triggered backlash, and a heavily supported #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign. Even with Nate Parker’s The Birth Of A Nation slip-and-fall, the field is now populated with multi-colored talent. Fences, Moonlight, Lion, Silence, Hidden Figures, 13, and I Am Not Your Negro are just some of the films that are likely to put ethnically diverse actors or filmmakers in contention.
But those diverse faces will be squared off against at least two dozen OWM’s—let’s politely call them Older White Men—who, though ranging between a middle-aged 50 (like Jon Favreau, The Jungle Book) and a grand old 86 (Clint Eastwood, Sully), have not left the stage.
Only two hours ago (according to Googlemail), IFC Films and producer Edward R. Pressman, 73, sent an invitation to next week’s Four Seasons luncheon for Jeremy Irons, a possible best supporting actor nominee for his role in The Man Who Knew Infinity. Irons, 68, last won an Oscar in 1991 for his leading role in Reversal Of Fortune; and he isn’t quite ready for those geriatric Governors Awards yet.
But to win this year, Irons will have to push past not just the young, British-born son of ethnic Indians from Kenya, Dev Patel (for Lion), and the 42-year-old African-American actor Mahershala Ali (for Moonlight), but a cluster of fellow OWMs. Those are as crusty as Jeff Bridges, in Hell or High Water; as persistent as Warren Beatty, in Rules Don’t Apply; as overdue as Liam Neeson, for Silence; or as dead as Alan Rickman, who left behind well-received performance in Eye In The Sky, which was directed by Gavin Hood, 53.
Among directors, Eastwood has again staked a claim on what would be his fifth competitive Oscar (not counting a career Thalberg award) with Sully, while putting a silver-mustachioed Tom Hanks in contention for what would be his third acting Oscar, at the age of 60. But Mel Gibson, who turns 61 in January, is back with Hacksaw Ridge; Scorsese will be in the race with his passion-project of a quarter-century, Silence; and Beatty, who has been laboring even longer on his Howard Hughes story, will arrive later this year with Rules Don’t Apply.
Those OWM directors will all demand attention, as will Oliver Stone for Snowden, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester By The Sea, Ken Loach for I, Daniel Blake, and Robert Zemeckis for Allied.
Among leading actors, Robert De Niro, 73, is suddenly back in the mix with Taylor Hackford’s The Comedian, now set for an awards-season release by Sony Pictures Classics. He’ll be pushing up against Hanks, Keaton, and maybe even Allied’s Brad Pitt and Captain Fantastic’s Viggo Mortensen, who, at 52 and 57, respectively, used to be movie stars, but are suddenly looking like part of Hollywood’s new headache—that glut of annoyingly talented OWMs.