The Oscars are not a meritocracy. We like to believe they are, but awards season is inevitably influenced by nepotism, bias, and plain old bad taste. In technical categories like costume design, this raises some interesting questions about the definition of “award-worthy” art—and whether the Oscars can be trusted to recognize it.
In the latest episode of Behind the Seams, we delve into the Oscars’ costume-related biases, breaking down the stats for the Academy’s recurring trends.
Most obviously, the costume category is dominated by historical dramas. Big, lavish historical costumes are a shoo-in for Oscar nominations, with musicals and fantasy as the second and third-favorite genres. Meanwhile, sci-fi and contemporary dramas rarely receive any recognition—which makes the 2023 lineup particularly interesting.
While some of the nominees are predictable, we have a potentially unprecedented two sci-fi nominees (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Everything Everywhere All at Once), one of which is a contemporary drama/comedy crossover. In more ways than one, Everything Everywhere is a very unusual choice for the Academy’s costume branch.
The costume category’s recurring biases are both an inside-baseball kind of problem, and a microcosm of issues that plague the Oscars across the board. Certain types of film are prioritized year after year, regardless of whether they’re doing anything interesting. Certain A-listers dominate the shortlists, and it’s hard for newcomers to break the mold.
With a slightly more varied spread of nominees than we’re used to seeing, 2023 is an interesting year. But will the Academy vote for a genuinely bold and exciting choice, or will it opt for more traditional fare like Elvis or Babylon?
In each episode of Behind the Seams, we examine a different element of cinematic costume design, whether it’s an in-depth analysis of the Star Wars series Andor, or a look at the concept of historical accuracy. Click here to subscribe now!