An illuminated shelf case holds rows of gold Oscar statuettes.
Credit: Empire Online

Going against award season apathy: an ode to the Oscars

By Tomek Kutereba

 Before the 94th Academy Awards this weekend and the inevitable storm of cynical viewers dominating your Twitter feed, Tomek considers the positive aspects of the ceremony.

On 16 May 1929, the very first Oscar statuette was awarded. Since then, almost a century later, of the 318 winners in acting categories, only 20 were Black. Out of all directors nominated for Best Director (467 – yes, I counted using Wikipedia) only six have been Black, and none have ever won. As for women directors, seven have been nominated and two have won. Things still look dire over in Hollywood, don’t they? Although it may feel like 93 years of old White people patting themselves on the back and sipping champagne while the rest of the populace are overlooked, I do still believe that the Academy Awards hold value. It could simply do with a nice overhaul.

Industry based awards aren’t anything new. They happen all over the place, even in industries we may not care much for (congrats to Morrisons for winning Supermarket of the Year 2021). Yet all the glitz and the glamour and the excess just make us so focussed on Hollywood every year. The Oscars, I feel, are indeed important for highlighting the exceptional work done in the previous year within cinema. It’s no sin to reflect and reward, and when it’s at its best, it can be quite an encouraging and heart-warming experience. 

“It’s no sin to reflect and reward, and when it’s at its best, it can be quite an encouraging and heart-warming experience.”

There’s no denying that the Oscars has some inherent problems. I know my friends may think I’m losing touch with reality – but I don’t live under a rock. I feel continued reform and improvement is required, not outright removal, as some anti-awards show folk would call for. It’s understandable that people with little-to-no interest in the industry wouldn’t give much of a toss if the Oscars went the way of the dinosaurs. However, to those who do care, be it aspiring creatives from all backgrounds and walks of life, such as young people, people of colour, or the next generation of LGBTQ+ artists, they could feel encouraged and motivated by the success of people who they can relate to – if the Academy simply tried a bit harder.

I don’t have all the solutions (not that anybody was expecting me to), though I feel that the Oscars have made some actual progress, albeit very slowly, in the right direction. Not to risk cheering on the bare minimum too much, but necessary steps have actually been taken in light of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, as well as other issues that advocacy groups have taken issue with. Currently the main thing bothering me about the Oscars, that I haven’t touched on previously, would be the side-lining of awards for so-called “below the line” creators to the advert slots. This year, awards including Best Editor and Best Costume Design shall not be televised in order to save time – which I think is a genuine shame.

Not only is this disrespectful to many creatives out there, but it is also wildly disheartening. As Steven Spielberg himself commented to Deadline recently:

“I disagree with the decision made by the executive committee … I feel that at the Academy Awards there is no ‘above the line’, there is no ‘below the line’. All of us are on the same line bringing the best of us to tell the best stories we possibly can. And that means for me we should all have a seat at the supper table together live at 5.”

This decision made by the Academy ignores the fact that film is at heart a collaborative medium, regardless of what first year film students who have read a bit too much into auteur theory might argue (AKA first year me. I’m sorry to anyone who has ever met me). 

“This decision made by the Academy ignores the fact that film is at heart a collaborative medium…”

Despite this, however, without the Oscars we wouldn’t have Mahershala Ali’s historic win at the 89th Awards (2016-17), for being the first Muslim actor to receive the award. Or that same night when Moonlight won the award, after La La Land was read out by mistake (iconic). The first time I remember being genuinely ecstatic at the Oscars was watching Parasite, and my main man Bong Joon-Ho, sweep Best Director, Best International Film and Best Picture – becoming the first foreign language film to ever win the award. This was at the 92nd awards (2019-20), one month before the first lockdown, and despite feeling like a lifetime ago, it was a night that made all the usual Oscars bullshit feel worth it. It made me think of how I imagine it must have felt to witness Return of the King (2003) sweep all 11 categories it was nominated for – the largest clean sweep in the history of the awards.

Therefore, I think it’s so important the Academy works harder to provide that experience for everyone, regardless of race, colour, and creed. More needs to be done, I agree, but perhaps the 130th Academy Awards will be really sick? At least by that point all the old folk that still linger within the Academy will have passed on. Apologies for my ageism. Seriously though, pick up the pace, Academy!

[P.S. if you’re wondering / if you care – My money is on a Best Picture win for Power of the Dog, Best International Film for Drive My Car (sorry, not sorry Worst Person stans). Best Screenplay – Paul Thomas Anderson for Licorice Pizza, and Best Director for Jane Campion for Power of the Dog. Fingers crossed she won’t embarrass herself further after that recent travesty at the Critics’ Choice Awards]


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