Can The Academy Awards Stay Relevant?

By: Brandon T. McClure

For the Academy Awards, attempting to appeal to a modern audience is nothing new. For example, in the 83rd Awards show, James Franco and Anne Hathaway were picked to host since they were two hot young stars of the silver screen, and the Academy was hoping they would pull in a younger, more modern audience. They even said as much in the opening ceremonies.

In 2017, the “Oscars So White” hashtag trended on social media since they nominated mostly films with no people of color. This resulted in the academy adding many diverse actors and filmmakers to their ranks, such as Michael B. Jordan and Brie Larson. For a moment, that seemed to be the fix, since in 2018, they nominated a wide and diverse range of films such as “The Shape of Water” (the winner that year), “Lady Bird” and “Get Out.”

The Best Picture category is seen as the highest award given at the Oscars.  The more genre focused films have a harder time making it into that category than most.  Since the release of “The Dark Knight” in 2008, the Academy has been bombarded with campaigns to nominate comic book-based films for best picture. Many audiences felt the academy was looking down on them as the film industry had done for so many years.

In the run up to the 2018 awards show, the academy was pressured again by those in the ‘geek community’ to nominate Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” and James Mangold’s “Logan.” Logan was the only one to receive a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, but it lost to “Call Me By Your Name.”

In the eyes of many in the Academy, these efforts must have been in vain since last year, they saw its lowest viewership numbers in 44 years with 26.5 million viewers watching. According to the Associate Press, this marked the first time the awards show dropped below 30 million; likely putting the academy in a panic.

“We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.” Those words were from President John Bailey and chief executive, Dawn Hudson, in an email sent to Academy members on August 8, 2018. Among other things, the email listed ways the famed awards show would change its format in the 91st show, like adding a new category called “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” and removing four awards from the telecast to create a shorter show. At the time, details weren’t clear, but the blowback was immediate.

Many critics and filmgoers alike took to the internet to lambast the decision, claiming that creating a new category for popular films lessened the “Best Picture” category. It felt like they were throwing blockbuster films a bone. Chief film critic for IndieWire, Eric Kohn, told The Washington Post that the Oscars seemed closer than ever before to “recognizing quality cinema across the board,” especially considering the progress independent films have made in the best-picture category over the past twenty years. It used to be that festival films wouldn’t get the attention that big-budget projects did, and the idea of a “Moonlight” or “Call Me By Your Name” being nominated, and even winning, was unheard of. Whether or not, blockbuster cinema earned the spot at the time isn’t the question. But why does a new category need to be made in order to recognize blockbuster cinema?

About a month after the initial announcement, the Board of Governors made another announcement. They would not be adding this category in the 2019 awards show. “There has been a wide range of reactions to the introduction of a new award, and we recognize the need for further discussion with our members,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement. While they claimed they did still plan on implementing the award, they would need to go back to the drawing board.

In January of this year, when the nominations were announced, many people expressed surprise at the lack of women filmmaker nominations, and “Black Panther” being nominated for Best Picture. Many rejoiced to see such a historical film nominated for the highest award. But, there was something disingenuous about it, as if the Academy got tired of the campaigns and nominated the only one they could get away with since, let’s be honest, “Avengers: Infinity War” wasn’t going to get the nomination.  It didn’t feel earned like “Get Out” or “The Shape of Water” did. With the amount of films people say were snubbed, should it have beaten the others just because the academy wanted to get more viewers?

Last week, it was announced that the four categories that won’t be broadcast live are: cinematography, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, and live-action short; although the winning speeches would still be aired and will be included in a later part of the broadcast. To say the least, the film industry was not happy. Seth Rogan said “What better way to celebrate achievements in film than to NOT publicly honor the people whose job it is to literally film things.” Academy Award winning director Guillermo Del Toro tweeted “I would not presume to suggest what categories should occur during commercials on Oscars night, but, please: Cinematography & Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical or literary tradition: they are cinema itself.”

The Academy released a statement shortly after, that all but proved they missed the point of what people were trying to say. The response said that the representatives of these categories volunteered and that each year a rotating list of categories will be aired during the commercial breaks to cut down time (Though I doubt you’ll ever see the acting categories’ in this rotation).

At any rate, it didn’t matter as a few days later the Academy released another statement, saying “The Academy has heard the feedback from its membership regarding the Oscar presentation of four awards…All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format. We look forward to Oscar Sunday, February 24.” So, this year goes unchanged.

After a long search for a host, the academy officially announced it would be going on without one for the first time since 1989. Kevin Hart seemed likely to host, but after controversy surrounded the actor, he pulled out. On twitter, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was asked if he’d ever be interested in hosting, to which the actor responded “Ah Mahalo Dude, I was their first choice to host this year, and my goal was to make it the most fun and entertaining Oscars ever. We all tried hard, but couldn’t make it work since I’m shooting Jumanji. The Academy and I were super bummed but maybe one day down the road.”

Adding an award to allow “popular films” to win, only serves to belittle them and removing awards only serves to prove what people already feel, that the technical awards aren’t as important as the others.  Someone like The Rock, an entertainer who puts his audience first could make the necessary changes that are needed to make the Academy Awards relevant again, if they were willing to listen.

 

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If you want more from Brandon T. McClure, check out Fake Nerd Podcast or Mythellaneous on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.

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