In this house, we still love and support the Academy. But loving and supporting something also means that, sometimes, you’ve got to take a long hard look at its failures and figure out why it is they keep happening so that thing you love can get better. Every year it seems like a new and exhausting source of controversy pops up in regard to the Oscars. Granted, that just might be the way of things now with outrage culture and the internet, but the fact of the matter is that the stuff folks are getting irritated about are reasonable frustrations.
I’m not talking Oscar snubs. We get it, your favorite actor got passed up for something and you think that’s unfair. (I, for one, am still mad that Amy Adams got ignored for Arrival, and will tell anyone who listens should it come up.) But that’s a different kind of frustration. What we’re talking about here are social movements like #OscarsSoWhite, the fact that we still somehow have all-male categories when there are countless women in the industry absolutely slaying the game, and honestly, a whole lot more.
We don’t like pointing out problems without at least starting a conversation about how to solve them, so let’s break down some of the things that institutions like the Academy could do to help viewers get more engaged, and to maybe survive just one year without a controversy or five.
We’ll kick things off with the easiest problem to solve. The Oscars is a stuffy show that takes itself entirely too seriously. We get it, you’re artists. We all dig the hell out of that art! We want to support you continuing to make that art, and we want to see you win awards for it. Having a five-hour show isn’t your problem (ok, maybe it’s a little bit of your problem); having a five-hour show that’s boring is what’s killing you.
You might have noticed that they couldn’t find anyone to host the show this year. Thousands of actors, comedians, and otherwise well-known entertainment folks in the industry couldn’t be paid to host the most prestigious awards show on television. Now, that could be because they were all magically busy. Or it could be that it’s a nightmare job that has literally turned into a no-win situation for whoever makes the mistake of taking it on. I mean…
Take a breath, Academy fam. Laugh at yourselves a little!
By the way, if you want to save time and cut down the length of the broadcast? Don’t cut categories from your live presentation (and then, later, reverse that decision when everyone rightfully hates it). Instead, get rid of the cheesy opening number and cut out the cringeworthy joke segments in between. Allow the winners a little more time to give their speeches so they’re not just rushed lists of names to thank. This keeps the more spontaneous, interesting bits of the night intact while getting rid of the forced humor that always falls flat, anyway. Everyone wins!
Stunts, Stunts, Stunts, Stunts, Stunts, Stunts!
How is it the Year of Our Lord 2019 and stunt work still doesn’t have a category? Stunt folks are out there literally risking their lives for the craft and they’re still not allowed a trophy and forty-five seconds on the Oscars’ glammed-up stage? This has been a long-running topic, but prior to this year consumers all just begrudgingly accepted it because there was an assumption that additional categories just couldn’t fit in to the already obscene length of the program. There had to be some reason, since “Best Stunt Coordination” had been proposed and rejected every year from 1991-2012.
Then the Academy went and tried to add the “Best Popular Film” award this year in an ill-advised move. The effort to increase ratings was eventually scrapped before this year’s big show, but all it did was show us that the Academy is willing to add in a new category if the right reasons presented themselves. The incredible stunt teams around the world are the right reason, and it’s long overdue.
Take Genre Film Seriously
Speaking of that proposed Best Popular Film category…
Last year the Academy shocked us all by giving Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of the Water Best Picture. It’s not the first time a genre film has been awarded the biggest prize of the night, but they’re few and far between. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that I can survive another Oscar-bait biopic, war film, or period piece. Film purists might hate the rise of mainstream superhero and horror fare, but they’ve been around for a long while, and they aren’t going anywhere.
The Academy’s biggest issue is that ratings for the Oscars have been steadily dropping for years, with most mainstream audiences neither knowing nor caring about the movies nominated. And how can they, when a good portion of Oscar-nominated movies never even make it to theaters outside of major cities? Why should general audiences be invested in the Best Picture nominees or acting categories when they haven’t seen any of the movies represented? If the Academy wants to survive, it has got to acknowledge that in our modern age, tentpoles and blockbusters are a fixture of the industry – in fact, one could argue they are the industry, at least the studio system. If the Academy Awards are meant to award excellence in filmmaking, these capes-and-costumes movies are still part of filmmaking and should be acknowledged. We’re not asking for the Oscars to turn into the MTV Movie Awards, but the Academy evolving in its outdated mindset toward genre films is a necessity the Oscars ceremony is to return to its rightful place as the premier entertainment industry event of the year, the one that has a legitimate impact on Hollywood.
It Must Evolve With People, Too
Did you know that back in the ’20s there were categories for Comedy and Drama (albeit only director categories)? There was even one for Best Musical! The Oscars have grown stale over the decades because they have a type – a type of film and a type of actor. There’s a reason you know exactly the kind of film someone is talking about when they say “Oscar-bait.” The general population finds themselves turned off by the monotony of the Oscars because that narrow story no longer reflects the greater demographic (if it ever did to begin with). There’s been a constant decline in viewership by the millions over the years, with 2014 clocking in at about 43.7 million viewers, and 2018 scraping by with 26.5. That’s almost half of their audience who’ve decided that they’re done with whatever it is the Oscars are selling.
We’ve finally hit an era where consumers aren’t blindly accepting all white male anything anymore. We want diversity; we want change; we want to see other stories told and all the world reflected on the screen, not just a tiny portion of it. Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen overnight. The Academy has taken small steps to diversify its voter pool over the past few years after backlash, but if their ratings are any indication, those small changes aren’t yet being reflected where it counts.
Five women have been nominated for Best Director in the history of the category. Five. This will be the ninety-first year for the Oscars. Ninety-one. In decades past, audiences mostly resigned ourselves to the fact that that is just how the industry was. Now that the rate of cultural acceptance has started to shift, however, major awards shows have to start shifting with it.
A good way to combat that while we continue to battle to get women and creators of color higher profile directorial roles is to expand the pool of movies that are considered Oscar-worthy. Add comedy and musicals to the above-mentioned superhero movies and horror films. Just because they’re a different kind of film doesn’t mean that they’re not incredible and worth looking at with reverence – and the same goes for the people in front of and behind the camera.
Some of the Academy’s problems will take time to fix. Others should have been resolved a long while ago and still remain a problem. But, while there are still controversial films with controversial people nominated for Best Picture, there are also movies like Black Panther, Roma, BlacKkKlansman and The Favourite out there trying to shake things up.
2018’s Oscars had the lowest viewership in the program’s history. Maybe that was a wakeup call. Maybe we’ll all be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the 2019 show. In the meantime, all we can do is keep supporting the films we love.
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