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Finding Diversity Within The 2016 Oscar Nominees

Written by Sharon Knolle

Oscars 2016 is, of course the much-discussed, much-debated year of #OscarsStillSoWhite, since no people of color were recognized in the acting categories for the second year in a row.

Regardless of where you stand on that hot-button issue, there is some diversity in the films that were nominated, at least (as is usually the case) in the Best Foreign Film and Best Documentary categories.

The Revenant

While the Oscar frontrunner (up for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor) is primarily about one white guy’s struggle to survive, the film (from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu) is arguably as much about the genocide of Native Americans. Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is left for dead, but battles the elements to get revenge on the man (Tom Hardy) who abandoned him and who killed his half-native son.

The Look of Silence (Best Documentary)

This unbelievably powerful film about the 1965 Indonesian genocide is the companion piece to the also Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing.  Director Joshua Oppenheimer follows optician Adi, who makes it his mission to confront the men who viciously killed his older brother 50 years ago. Unlike most of his fellow Indonesians, who still believe the mass extermination of up to a million “communists” was necessary and even heroic, Adi was raised with the knowledge of his brother’s horrific death and his mother’s deep sorrow.

It is not a comfortable film by any means, and the screening I was at had several walkouts as two killers gleefully recounted their grisly exploits. Watching the expression on the face of one woman – whose father is a feared and respected member of the murder squad — change from pride to horror is the heart of the film is revelatory.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (Best Documentary )

A portrait of the complicated, legendary soul singer Nina Simone, who wrote some of the most fiery civil rights anthems such as “Mississippi Goddamn.”

Boy and the World (Best Animated Feature)

This colorful, hand-drawn Brazilian animated film, which uses little dialogue, tells the story of a boy whose search for his father leads him to brand new worlds.

Mustang (Best Foreign Film)

This acclaimed French film is set in Northern Turkey, where five modern teenager girls are made virtual prisoners by their parents until they can be married off.

Theeb (Best Foreign Film)

This nominee tells the tale of two orphaned brothers, Hussein and Theeb, who live a traditional Bedouin life in Jordan in 1916, until a British officer asks them to guide him to strategically important Ottoman train tracks.

Embrace of the Serpent (Best Foreign Film)

Set in Colombia, it follows Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman, who helps two scientists search for a sacred healing plant. The film’s official site describes it as “at once blistering and poetic [in which] the ravages of colonialism cast a dark shadow over the South American landscape.”

Ave Maria (Live Action Short Film nominee)

Five nuns living in the West Bank must help a family of Israeli settlers without breaking their vow of silence or the family’s Sabbath restrictions.

Country of origin: France | Germany | Palestine
Language: Arabic | English | Hebrew

Day One (Live Action Short Film nominee)

On her first mission as a military interpreter in Afghanistan, an Afghan-American woman must bridge the gender and culture gap to help a suspected bomb-maker’s pregnant wife when she goes into labor.

Country of origin: United States
Language: English | Dari

Sanjay’s Super Team (Animated Short Film nominee)

Sanjay, a first-generation Indian-American, loves television, cartoons and his superhero action figures and has no interest in joining his devout Hindu father in his daily prayers.

Country of origin: United States
Language: English

Body Team 12 (Documentary Short nominee)

Garmai Sumo is the only female member of Body Team 12, one of the many teams collecting the bodies of those who died from Ebola in the 2014 outbreak.

Country of origin: Liberia
Language: English

Chau, Beyond the Lines (Documentary Short nominee)

Chau, a teenager born with birth defects due to Agent Orange, yearns to become a professional artist and clothing designer.

Country of origin: United States | Vietnam
Language: Vietnamese

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (Documentary Short nominee)

Eighteen-year-old Saba survived a murder attempt by her family for eloping with someone they disapproved of: Every year, more than 1,000 religiously motivated honor killings take place in Pakistan.

Country of origin: Pakistan
Language: Panjabi

Last Day of Freedom (Documentary Short nominee)

Manny, an African-American veteran who served two tours in Vietnam and who suffers from PTSD, commits a crime and his brother agonizes about turning him in.

Country of origin: United States
Language: English

The Oscar Nominated Short Films will be in theaters beginning January 29
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