Honestly what did we expect? I haven’t had much respect for the Oscar institution since 2008. Looking back now, that’s been looking like a better and better decision each year. Here’s where the Academy gets it and wrong how to fix it…
I suppose as the primary movie critic at Nerd Union, I should have some positive thoughts towards the Oscars. But I’m going to be completely honest, I haven’t cared since 2008. Why that specific year? The Dark Knight, widely regarded as one of the best films in the last 10 years, didn’t even get a nomination. And while a bunch of head scratching ensued afterwards, I decided I was done. It wasn’t simply because I’m a huge Batman fan, but that snub really made me examine the entire Oscar system. Folks may be upset about the snubs that occurred this year, but it’s a symptom of a bigger issue. Here’s where the Oscar system gets it wrong:
Problem: Terrible Demographics
Back in 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that the makeup of the voting members (at least the 88% they could confirm) were 94% Caucasian, 77% male and over half were over the age of 60. That’s not a diverse enough group of members to ensure what happened this year and last year (strong best picture contender, Selma, getting snubbed). And we haven’t even talked about the fact that they may not even be watching every eligible film. There’s no requirement for the voting members to actually see Selma, Concussion or a whole host of others that have slipped through the cracks. When the voters don’t have to compare every possible film for best picture, there’s a strong chance that they didn’t see the film we thought was a done deal.
Solution: Symptom Of The Industry
I thought long and hard about this one, but I couldn’t really come up with a way to make the Academy more diverse. Sure, the movie industry has made strides towards breaking stereotypes and there are more successful minority directors than I ever remember growing up. But many of the movers and shakers within the industry are still overwhelmingly Caucasian. You can’t even say that the industry reflects the demographics of the US because those would be more like 67% Caucasian, with minorities making up the other 33%. A report published by UCLA back in 2014 (It’s actually a pretty good report and you can check it out here) showed that the industry disparity was more like 89% Caucasian to 11% minority for lead actors. For women, the share of that was 75% male to 25% female when the national population is more of an even split. I haven’t even touched sexual orientation, which has even more problems for representation. Until we see an abundance of diverse actors, producers, and move up the ranks and have more creative say, we will continue to see issues like this every year.
Problem: Secret Members
Yeah, when has this ever worked out well? We can sort of figure out who some of the members are in AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), but it’s not like we have an exhaustive list. This leads to a lack of accountability and leaves the general public in the dark about who’s making these decisions. Now to be fair, if we polled the same demographics up above, I’d be surprised if we didn’t come up with a similar nomination list. But that’s exactly the point: a more diverse Academy would help eliminate some of these issues and ensure that films like Creed, Concussion or Straight Outta Compton get a fair shake. Oh and did I mention that they determine who is invited to join the Academy? Industry members can’t walk up to the door and say, “Hey, I love to join your illustrious organization”. Nope, you apparently have to impress or hit some kind of internal metric that again is secret and hope beyond hope that you make it in.
Solution: Reveal The Voting Breakdown
So, if you think showing us how each voter cast their ballot is too revealing, then okay, fine. But how about letting us see how the voting actually went? Let’s see how many votes each category or actor received. Right now, the general public owns the public relations side of this because we can’t see how the vote fell. Geez, days after this years presidential election you will be able to figure out how the election was won down to the districts (As Trevor has informed me, but I’ve never tried. I’m not shifting through all that stuff). But none of this kind of information is available to the public. The lack of accountability here is what makes me completely disinterested in following the Oscars. I’m curious about who wins, but if it’s all done under the dark on night, you can count me out.
Problem: Only One Winner
After The Dark Knight got snubbed, a funny thing happened. the number of allowed nominations increased. However, this didn’t necessarily result in seeing more comic book films getting added (Although we haven’t seen a comic book movie hit that quality since then). So it’s no surprise that minority films, casts, and productions would continue to get passed over. But even adding more nominations fails to hit at a particular issue: why is there a winner to begin with? If the purpose of the Academy Award is to highlight the best actor, film, etc of the year, how do you actually determine that? It’s a pretty subjective thing to compare performances that are expected to strike different emotional chords and stories. Would it be better to have two actors play the same role and see who did it better? Of course that’s pretty silly, but that’s my point exactly. At some point, once we’ve whittled the field down, you end up compared two shiny apples and picking one over the other makes you look moronic at best.
Solution: Award The “Best” Of The Year
I’m usually not a fan of everyone winning and that’s not what I’m suggesting. However, I would suggest a way to eliminate some of the issues is to simply honor a select number of best in each category. You could open up the nomination field more and then limit the number of awards per category to like 5 or 6. Then, for example, vote for how many best actors there were for the year of 2015. When I release my best of 2015 lists later this week, I will still rank the films according to what I felt was best. However there will still be a list and multiple films on my list that I’m highlighting as having achieved a high level of cinematic glory. Some may think this is a slap in the face to minorities or like the crybaby taking his ball home from the playground, but that’s simply not the case.
Even if the Oscars and movie industry became more diverse, I despise the idea of awarding one person or film in comparison to all the excellent ones that come out each year. I don’t think movies should be made towards competition. The fact that the term Oscar Bait exists, highlights to me how silly this has become. Create a film because it’s a story you want to tell. Pick the actors that you want because they are suited to the role, not for selling tickets. I’ve lost count of how many “Oscar-worthy” films I’ve watched with great performances, but lacking in enduring quality and substance. If we are going to push towards diversity, we also need to fix the thing we strive for minorities t better represented in. Otherwise, we are opening the doors to an exclusive club that wasn’t really that good to begin with.
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