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Do the Academy Awards Still Matter?

Since 1929, the Academy Awards have long been the defining term for success in Hollywood. Whether someone is nominated or wins, they will forever be known by it. This title helps to sell movies and guarantee some level of success. While the golden statuette might hold some power, does it still mean what it used to? Declining viewership and growing criticism over the lack of diversity within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and among the nominees has led many to question the value of this award ceremony. There have been quick fixes and hope that the long-term ones will pay off in the end, but it’s hard to think about the ceremony without the issues that plague it. To continue with a more modern era, these awards will have to adapt to a changing social landscape. 

For the past ten years, the Oscars have struggled to stay relevant. While they are recognized by everyone, there is the issue of viewership and if the award still means what it used to. While the awards are still televised, it has struggled with a steep decline in viewership. They recently made the switch to cap the ceremony at three hours and to have an earlier air date. While the Academy hoped that this would boost their chances for better ratings, they were wrong. For the past couple of years, live viewership has been in the mid-20 million range. While this year was different due to the pandemic, viewership plummeted to 9.85 million viewers. Other award shows are struggling as well but this doesn’t seem like a good sign.

While the awards might continue to be telecast, a large percentage of people will continue to watch highlights the next day or just check the updates on their phones. Attempts were made to entice viewers to watch it live, but most fall flat and there are usually more criticisms than praise reported the day after. While the ceremony itself is seemingly losing its golden edge, the value of the award itself is having similar issues. 

While a lot of value is given to the award itself, can this still win over modern audiences? The unexpected win of Parasite last year helped to usher in the possibility of seeing more than just the same directors and types of movies win each year. Movies such as this have done well across the world at film festivals such as Cannes and Berlinale. Due to this, should the Oscars evolve to follow their format? It’s no secret that there has been an ongoing debate about how the Oscars and Cannes rarely award the same award to films. Rather than ignoring that, is this hinting at a possible need for change? It’s no secret that Cannes and Berlinale receive a large number of submissions from many country’s which in turn has led to smaller films getting the limelight. These same films wouldn’t have the chance for that opportunity at the Oscars. This issue extends past the problem with relevance and connects with the multitude of issues concerning diversity that continuously plague these awards.

Diversity is not a stranger to award shows and this issue can be found in every one of them. With the Oscars, they have had many opportunities to try and do something about it. Six-hundred-and-five of the nominations in the past decade have gone to white people as well as 91 wins. Due to high numbers like these, social media has tried to call them out with hashtags such as #OscarsSoWhite in 2015. Ironically the year before this hashtag was more diverse in its nominations. While this prompted a lot of controversies, it has seemingly only led to a series of guidelines that movies will need to follow in order to qualify for a nomination. 

These rules will not go into place until the Oscars in 2024, but they are sure to keep coming up as they are not the easiest to follow. An article from Variety attempts to explain them by using 1917 as an example. It explains how the film must fall into two of the four categories in order to qualify. 1917 easily does that which brings the guidelines into question. If it’s not difficult to follow them, will studios do the bare minimum to qualify or actually put in the effort to make sure that there is diversity within cast, crew, and story? A recent analysis of box office performance showed that films with more than 40% minority in their casts make much more money than those with a white-washed cast. Studies like these only prove that studios can financially benefit from making an effort at least with their casting choices. Only time will tell when it comes to seeing if these guidelines actually make an impact. 

Another avenue to consider when it comes to diversity is the Academy itself. While they have made efforts to bring on more diverse members, should it be restructured? Out of 7,000 members, only around 35% are women and under 20% are non-white. This will automatically cause some sort of influence when it comes to the winners. This year saw a rise in more wins going to minorities but will this continue?

There were more female directors than ever before but did they have to work harder to get there? The average cost of female-directed films came to somewhere under $17 million. While the male-directed films were given tens of millions. Regardless, Nomadland still won for best picture, director, and actress. Yet, a New York Times article ponders on whether this will hold true for the Oscars next year. Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story will debut next year and probably in time for the Oscars as well. If (and when) it gets nominated, will trends fall back into a place of celebrating the same creators or will more films fight to stay in the small spotlight? This hypocrisy among the Academy and the Awards might continue but for their sake, more effort should be made in order for viewers to still view it with some credibility. 

With all of this being said, this years awards definitely had its ups and downs. On the plus-side, there were many firsts when it came to the winners of some of the awards including Chloe Zhao for Best Director and Yuh-Jung Youn for Best Supporting Actress. The Academy included content that didn’t have a theatrical release which helped to expand the nomination pool. Due to this, films such as One Night in Miami… and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were nominated and brought home awards. These pros, if continued, will help the Oscars to evolve and appear more inclusive. There was also many attempts by the different presenters to encourage viewers to go back to movie theatres once they open again. While their minds were in the right place, some of it felt a little too staged. This starts off a list of negatives from this years show. 

Many of the cons for this year can be attributed to the new format that was created because of the pandemic. Production-wise, there was a lot of silence and awkwards angles. Things were shaky and having the presenters move around felt a little forced. It was interesting to hear the little quips they gave to each nominee but it wasn’t always the most smooth. Another awkward moment was when they did the “In Memoriam” piece. It was rushed and they omitted a few names including Naya Rivera and Jessica Walter. With a year filled with so much death, it would’ve felt more appropiate if it was slowed down a bit more. Lastly, the choice to rearrange the last three awards was definitely a bold one. While there were good intentions, the Best Actor award should never have been assumed. If Chadwick Boseman had won, it would have been just as touching even if the award wasn’t last. It just brought more criticism to the show. 

Overall, the Academy Awards this year were different in many ways. It will be interesting to see how they proceed over the next couple of years. If they are able to figure out how to run the actual ceremony a little better, I think it would help to bring up viewership. It will also be interesting to see how they run with the addition of films that chose to postpose their theatrical release. Will this drown out the indies that made this year so unique or will they continue to have a place on this infamous stage?

One of the biggest questions we can ask ourselves is: will the Academy Awards continue to have the same impact? As members of the film industry, these awards have sometimes felt like the end-all and be-all of our careers. While there are many other honors that are just as important, Hollywood has mainly embraced the tradition of these awards. Another one is: as students graduating into the industry, should we continue this tradition? Is it so engrained that we all just accept it and continue to uphold it or should we be furthering something else? In seven years, it will be the 100th year for the ceremony. Will it still be around for another hundred years? The Oscars definitely has its flaws but they can be fixed. If these awards try to change, and are given the encouragement and support, this tradition should be able to continue and should reflect the time that it’s in now.