Nomadland Is Stirring Up Controversy. Does the Academy Care?


This week the Los Angeles Instances ran a thorough article by Josh Rottenberg detailing a specific controversy confronted by Oscar best-picture front-runner Nomadland: the movie’s sophisticated relationship with Amazon. In Chloé Zhao’s movie, we see its lead character, itinerant 60-something Fern (Frances McDormand), going to work at an Amazon success middle, mingling fortunately together with her coworkers and stating that the wages she makes there are good cash. 

Presently, Amazon is on the middle of nationwide discourse as its staff try to unionize amid horror tales about their labor situations, and Amazon comms folks and followers blithely defend the megacorporation. It’s a fraught time to have any affiliation with the corporate, not to mention characteristic it prominently (if briefly) in your movie a few uncared for elder class residing off the grid, having crashed by way of America’s threadbare social security internet.

The Amazon query has adopted Nomadland since its premiere on the Venice Worldwide Movie Competition final summer season. Maybe the loudest clarion name in opposition to the movie arrived in February, when Wilfred Chan published a piece for Vulture known as “What Nomadland Will get Fallacious About Gig Labor.” Chan’s argument, which others have additionally made, is that Zhao’s movie glosses over the harshest realities of life beneath Amazon, ignoring the extra biting argument of the 2017 Jessica Bruder ebook on which the movie is predicated. Collaborating with Amazon in any capability whereas telling a narrative concerning the displaced, the underpaid, and the unhoused is a violation of the entire premise, they argue, negating your entire thematic and empathetic outlook of the movie. Nomadland could look stunning, its detractors say—however that magnificence is in service of a whitewash, a minimization of the hurt carried out to hundreds of staff nationwide, and is finished by the daughter of a rich industrialist. (Zhao was just lately profiled by Alison Willmore for New York magazine, and responded to criticism of the movie’s depiction of itinerant work. ”When you look deeply,” she stated, “the difficulty of elder care as a casualty of capitalism is on each body.)

These are salient, pertinent criticisms, ones I solely kind of tangled with after I reviewed the film again in September. (I later put the movie at quantity 5 on my best-movies-of-the-year list.) I’m maybe as responsible as others for assessing the movie’s swish aesthetics over its extra troubling implications, for zooming in on its particular portrait whereas compartmentalizing the numerous actual folks it exists in reference to. I nonetheless suppose there’s worthy critique inside Zhao’s movie—about how the aged are failed on this nation, about Amazon’s “good cash” being good solely in relative phrases—however after studying many detrimental takes on the movie, it has taken on a brand new context in my thoughts, dinged up however maybe higher understood. 

That shift has little question occurred for a lot of different followers of the movie as properly. However what seemingly hasn’t modified is the trade’s regard for it. Nomadland has charged its manner by way of the awards season, selecting up just about each main trophy it could actually. Frances McDormand received a BAFTA for her efficiency final weekend, her first large award for the position, however Zhao and the movie have scored quite a few prizes prior to now few months, together with a Producers Guild Award, a Administrators Guild Award, two Golden Globes, three extra BAFTAs, and lots of critics prizes. It has been unstoppable on its railway trip to L.A.’s Union Station (the place the Oscars will probably be held partly on April 25). The query, then, is that this: How has the movie so efficiently dodged such a severe backlash?

The temptingly glib reply is that the members of the varied establishments that dole out these awards don’t a lot care concerning the actuality of Amazon staff—that they would favor Zhao’s achingly stunning rendering be unbothered by a pesky factor like grim actuality. There may be seemingly a large sufficient contingent amongst awards voters for whom that’s true, even those that are members of labor unions themselves. They might discover the situations at Amazon so summary that they’re simple to dismiss, or too unsettling to actually grapple with. 

My guess is that loads of different voters merely haven’t paid consideration to the dialogue surrounding the film—that the Movie Twitter wars and the parade of suppose items are completely outdoors their visual field. Which is a disconnect that folks like myself could be smart to remember, now and within the years to return. Our discussions are sometimes occurring solely between us; the trade we’re supposedly in dialogue with is, plenty of the time, merely not listening. And never all the time out of willful ignorance, however slightly a mere distinction in media consumption and routine. For them Nomadland merely doesn’t exist inside a discourse past the trumpeting of awards glory and glowing critiques. The whole lot else is distant noise, if it’s detected in any respect. 

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