With 10 Oscar nominations and an often-predictive Critics’ Choice award under its belt, Alfonso Cuaron’s Netflix drama about a housekeeper in Mexico City appears to be holding at least a slight lead in annual Academy Awards race. The Favourite, from Fox Searchlight, also has 10 nominations. But neither film has been nominated in the ensemble cast category for tonight’s SAG Awards, and, at this moment, the intrepid odds makers over at Gold Derby give Roma the edge over all comers.
Looking at a calendar, this has to give one pause.
The Magical Mystery Tour, as we have come to regard ABC’s mysterious, probably host-free Oscar broadcast, arrives on February 24, a month from today. But 12 days earlier, on February 12, the eight-day Oscar voting period begins. And smack in the middle of that round, on February 15, a current hiatus on the federal government shutdown is scheduled to end, unless President Donald Trump and Congressional Democrats reach a deal over funding for a physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Taking any bets on a peaceful settlement of that one? It’s at least as likely that Congress will remain dug in, and Trump will move to build a wall with emergency funding. That, in turn, is almost certain to provoke a court challenge. By Oscar night, a judge somewhere will have issued an injunction aimed at stopping construction while he or she decides whether said judge, or the President, or someone else is truly entitled to declare an emergency.
But it would already be an emergency for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has been scrambling to avoid the kind of ratings disaster it suffered last year, when host Jimmy Kimmel’s politically tinged show drew a record low of 26.5 million viewers.
It’s not hard to imagine a large bloc of progressive Oscar voters leaning toward Roma. In the heat of a border battle, they can easily signal virtue by endorsing a film, in Spanish and Mixtec, about the travails of a Mexican maid and the family for whom she works.
(For the record, there is clearly a counter-current within the Academy, where some movie traditionalists are put off not so much by Roma’s foreign roots, as by the Netflix television-based distribution model. “Scroll past the Adam Sandler comedies to find it on Netflix,” reads a mock Roma poster circulating among Oscar types last week.)
As some of those Roma nominees become winners, the show—and its media interpreters—will inevitably become tangled in politics of the day. Some viewers will like that. But many won’t. And once again, with or without a host, the Oscars will find its audience split, and diminished, by a controversy that has nothing to do with the merit of the films on display