Last week, the nominees for the 89th Academy Awards were announced, and this year there have been a few notable Canadian nominees. Ryan Gosling has picked up his second Best Actor nomination for his performance in the brilliant La La Land (which has been nominated for a record-tying fourteen Oscars), his first going all the way back to 2007 for Half Nelson. Denis Villeneuve, then, for his work on Arrival, has received his first nomination for Best Director, though his 2010 film Incendies, which I recently reviewed, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.
There are, however, a number of Canadian nominations that have gone more unnoticed, no doubt due in part to the distraction of the aforementioned big-name industry alums. Robert Valley of Vancouver and Robert Barillaro of Niagara Falls are both nominated in the animated short category, for their respective films Pear Cider and Cigarettes, and Piper.
There is one Canadian nominee whom many may have overlooked, but is nonetheless of particular interest: Howard Barish. Though Barish’s name may not be a household one, I draw particular attention to him not just because he could viably come away with a trophy in the Best Documentary category (as I believe this is one of the most competitive categories this year), but also because he is nominated for his part in producing Ava DuVernay’s 13th.
I had the pleasure, or rather, the privilege, of watching Barish and DuVernay’s eye-opening documentary a number of months ago, and its analysis of the US prison system, and consequently linking its current practices to a history of insidiously constructed racism. It is that rare documentary you can watch repeatedly, and each time your jaw would be no farther from the floor by its end.
It is also worth noting that 13th transcends its own status as a damning racial analysis of US culture and its prison system, because even the category in which it is nominated is predominantly race-related films. This is an unquestionably significant step in the right direction for the Academy Awards, who last year were (rightfully) accused of perpetuating the whitewashing practices that remain in Hollywood to this day. It is fantastic to see that even a person like Barish, who is white and a native of Canada, supporting the production of a documentary that he himself realises is so vital.
With all this being said, I wish Barish, DuVernay, and indeed all other nominees the best of luck at this year’s Academy Awards.