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Oscar Preview: 3 Ways Education Could Take Center Stage at Sunday Night’s Academy Awards

By Kate Stringer | February 28, 2018

Three education films are nominated for Academy Awards: DeKalb Elementary, Lady Bird, and Traffic Stop. (Photo credit: Reed Van Dyk, A24, HBO)

This is the fourth installment in our “Film School” series, leading up to the 2018 Academy Awards. Read the previous installments.

What is the greatest education film of all time? Dead Poets Society? Waiting for “Superman”? Actually, can anything top Mean Girls?

Sunday night’s Academy Awards show may dethrone some of these classics, as a trio of education films — Lady Bird, Traffic Stop, and DeKalb Elementary — have been nominated for Oscars at this year’s 90th Academy Awards. Some have even emerged as front-runners.

Here are three ways education could take center stage Sunday night:


1. Best Picture 

Lady Bird, a story about a teenager’s senior year at an all-girls Catholic high school, is up for the night’s biggest prize, Best Picture. But some critics are skeptical it will triumph, favoring The Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri instead.

Lady Bird probably won’t win any Oscars, and that’s a bad thing,” declared a recent USA Today article, citing some who think director/screenwriter Greta Gerwig was nominated only because she was snubbed by the Golden Globes’ all-male director nominees — which the writer argued would be an “injustice.”

Other pundits point to the film’s other nominations as likelier categories for victory: Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf), and Best Director and Best Screenplay (Gerwig).

Some Oscar observers say the industry dismisses coming-of-age movies that focus on girls, as opposed to boys. “There’s still a persistent bias against the idea that serious filmmaking would center on teen girls,” Alissa Wilkinson wrote in a recent Vox article on whether Lady Bird could take home the night’s top award.

Regardless of awards, other observers argue that Lady Bird’s impact has been significant as a critically acclaimed story about women, written and directed by a woman. Gerwig’s former high school in Sacramento, California, St. Francis, is celebrating her nomination with an awards show Sunday night, where students will come dressed up in their best thrift-store outfits (inspired by scenes from the movie) and watch tapes of theater performances that the teenage Gerwig made while a student there.


2. Best Live Action Short

DeKalb Elementary — a story about a 2013 school shooting that was prevented by an empathetic school employee — was selected by the majority of experts on GoldDerby as the likely winner for Best Live Action Short Film.

Vanity Fair writers also selected the short for its timeliness in light of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, where 17 people died: “The immediacy of DeKalb Elementary should stick with voters and propel it to the top,” the authors wrote.

Journalist and author Mark Harris wrote that DeKalb’s win could end up being a “real moment in front of a huge audience” at the Oscars.


3. Best Documentary Short

Traffic Stop is a documentary about the life of teacher Breaion King after a violent encounter with police.

The film is not currently the favored winner in the Best Documentary Short category; instead, experts have picked Edith+Eddie and Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 to take home the prize. But director Kate Davis told The 74 that the Oscar is merely the “icing on the cake” compared to the real work she hopes the film can do as an educational tool around police brutality.

Davis says she plans on partnering with police academy training programs and schools to share the story of how violent police encounters can have a dramatic impact, both physically and mentally.


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