It’s the start of a new year, the Golden Globes have embarrassed the Hollywood Foreign Press for another year, the BAFTAs are slowly approaching, and it is nearly time for us to be served our annual dose of outdated opinions as the Academy will soon be announcing nominees for the Oscars. Yes that’s right, in 2016 we are still being told what fits the definition of “best” within a particular art form by old white men.
Because if there is anything history can tell us, it’s that the world has rarely heard the opinions of old white men…
I don’t see why people are still paying attention to the Oscars when clearly the results don’t actually matter. Perhaps in 1929 when the awards first started society wanted to hear the opinions of white men, pontificating about which other white men should receive an ego boost next, but we simply don’t need to hear such opinions today. In a world that is constantly striving for equality in all forms, be it linked to gender, race, sexual orientation etc. we do not need to hear the opinions of the Academy, an institution which according to recent statistics is said to consist of nearly 6,000 people, 94% of which are white, 77% of which are male, and over 50% are above the age of 60. It doesn’t sound particularly balanced or fair does it? I would argue so strongly that the results we are given from the Academy are disgustingly biased that they have absolutely no relevance and should not be taken seriously. We do not need to continue this yearly ritual of letting old white men hand awards to other white men and branding them as “best.” By repeating this process we are ratifying their opinions, maintaining the Oscars as the “most prestigious” film awards instead of moving forwards. In a modern world we don’t need people shoving their opinions down our throats, whilst desperately clinging to their old fashioned views of white male supremacy.
Now I know already some people will criticise me for writing this, claiming that it doesn’t matter and that I should just ignore the Oscars like a lot of people already do. However, I would argue that it does matter. The Oscars are held as the most prestigious awards for the film industry so their influence is huge. This isn’t petty schoolyard bullying we’re talking about here, it’s not even just individual acts of prejudice, what we’re talking about is structural, it is about the bias that leads to privilege among some groups but not others. It’s not as simple as bog standard favourtism, it’s more much insidious. All you need to do is consider that the film industry is one that is rife with inequality, seen clearly through the fact that women are paid significantly less than men for doing exactly the same job, and it is institutions like the Academy that feed this inequality on a consistent basis. The fact that someone’s paycheque can be altered based on whether they have won an Academy Award is outrageous, because it means the same people are rewarded on a regular basis for no reason whilst others are left forgotten.
Obviously I can’t speak for everyone else but I know that I’m sick and tired of such a large institution, with immeasurable influence throughout the industry and across the internet, feeding inequality by persistently undermining the work of particular groups within Hollywood based on aspects of their identity. The Academy may see them as minority groups in terms of filmmakers, but despite this rather erroneous notion being made it doesn’t justify neglecting their contributions to cinema. There is so much nonsense surrounding the awards, so much glaringly obvious bias, that I can’t help but support the argument that the Oscars are and always have been whitewashed.
I try to be as open minded as possible, however there are certain things I simply will not support:
I. The repetitive cycle as we see the same names repeatedly nominated and awarded because they are favourites of the Academy. This is the institute who in 2013 gave 12 nominations to the film Lincoln because it was a Steven Spielberg picture, and yet the year before gave no nominations to Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is still one of the best films of our time. I believe the Academy absolutely have their favourites so it is pointless to sit back and simply watch them hand out awards to the same people. Of course they can nominate Woody Allen for his screenplay writing 16 times, but why on Earth would they nominate Gillian Flynn for her exceptional adapted screenplay for Gone Girl? It’s one of the most gripping films of our time and the screenplay is fantastically written, so what should they do? Ignore it of course. Cretins.
II. The Academy’s definition of “best” when this includes the nomination of 396 male directors across 80 years, and yet only 4 female directors, only one of which went on to win the award.
III. An institution that repeatedly neglects the work of women, black people and other groups within society, whilst consistently praising the work of white men who simply do not deserve it.
IV. An institution that understands female directors account for 7% of all directors currently working in Hollywood, but then chooses to ignore the 7%. Just because there are less of them it doesn’t mean their work should not be considered. It would be like having a class at school that consists of 24 boys and 5 girls, and the girls are performing on the same academic level as the boys if not a higher level, but then because there are less girls the teacher decides to ignore their successes and focus on rewarding the boys instead. If that were to happen on a such small scale there would be uproar, and quite rightly, so why do we let it happen on such a large scale? It’s this close minded attitude that has lead to some genuinely fantastic films directed by women being completely ignored in the awards season of their respective years, such as Belle (2014) directed by Ama Asante, We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) directed by Lynne Ramsay, The Babadook (2014) directed by Jennifer Kent, and American Psycho (2000) directed by Mary Harron.
V. An institution that has its head lodged so firmly up the arse of its own country, that they actually feel the need to have separate categories for “Best Picture” and “Best Foreign Language Film.” The two aren’t mutually exclusive. A film is either good or it isn’t, the language spoken in it should not be held against it, and it certainly shouldn’t warrant the creation of a completely separate category. Once again I have to use the hypothetical classroom scenario; a teacher does not divide the test results of students based on nationality or mother tongue because it is simply unfair. It is high time that the Academy accepted that maybe America is not the center of the universe, and that there have been countless films in a foreign language that deserved the title of Best Picture more than any of the nominated films spoken in English. It sparks of desperation and jealousy to see such a large institution refusing to accept the work of other countries as better than their own. Almost sounds like a spoiled child that always wants to win, or the drunk old man who sits in the corner of a pub claiming that trained professionals from other countries stole a job he wasn’t qualified for. Funny that.
VI. Spending another year waiting to hear the opinions of the Academy after their nominations last year saw numerous people shockingly neglected despite being worthy of nominations. The aforementioned Gillian Flynn was not nominated under the ‘Adapted Screenplay’ category, Ava DuVernay was not nominated for ‘Best Director’ for the film Selma, and most annoyingly David Oyelowo was not nominated for his leading performance in the same film. That last point is interesting when you consider that the winner and indeed all of the nominees in that category were in fact white. Coincidence?
VII. The Academy that would choose to give multiple nominations to the same person in one category, whilst completely excluding other people who produced work to a similar, if not higher quality. Last year for instance in the “Best Original Score” category, all five of the nominees were male, including two nominations for the same person, Alexandre Desplat. This annoyingly undermined the fantastic work of Mica Levi for the film Under the Skin, which is one of the best scores I have heard in recent years. I shall amend the words of my previous question: in a category consisting entirely of male nominees is it a coincidence that the Academy neglected the work of a female British composer? You decide.
VIII. An institution that votes based on outdated attitudes. This is the same Academy that in 2014 admitted some members voted for the film 12 Years a Slave to win “Best Picture” without actually having seen the film. They voted because they felt morally obligated after realising it was about slavery. We shouldn’t tolerate this kind of foolish behaviour. Of course 12 Years a Slave is a phenomenal piece of film and Steve McQueen is one of the finest directors of our time, but the film should have been voted for because the Academy appreciated it as a powerful piece of art, not because they felt it was the right thing to do, and because the guilt of a country’s atrocities still hangs over them.
There are of course many more issues with the Academy and their approach to films, but I would argue those linked to the undermining and neglecting of particular groups in society should be addressed first and foremost. If you wish to look further into the Academy and their bizarre approach to films then I would recommend researching the winners and nominees of the Best Picture category, noting their bias against particular genres, such as Science Fiction which is still yet to have a winner, and Horror which has only ever had one winner.
The Academy is clever though. They are slowly managing to fool everyone into thinking that they are forward thinking liberals who are unbiased in their decisions. They’re doing this by occasionally making a decision that shocks people. For instance the previous two winners of the ‘Best Director’ award have been Mexican directors, and when we hear this we’re meant to think “Mexican? Not American? My gosh, how daring!” It’s pathetic, and yet they believe this is a fair way to give awards because it’s the way it has been done for year. I have a better suggestion, how about they stop using labels such as “female” and “foreign” altogether, and simply judge a film based on whether it’s good or not. Or better still, let them watch the films with limited information. They should watch the films without knowing the writer or director, make their minds up, cast their votes, and then see on the night who receives the awards. They may find that the usual suspects such as Mr Spielberg and Mr Eastwood remain seated for the duration, whilst more women take to the stage to receive awards.
The most terrifying thing to consider is that in the bigger picture the influence of the Academy is much more insidious. Over time more people have started to listen to the results of the Oscars and actually hold them as a credible source when passing judgement on films. A lot of us are guilty of it, even I have been in the past, making passing remarks about how many times an actor has won an Oscar, or how many Oscars a particular film received. It’s ridiculous that we still use the outdated opinions of the Academy when arguing on the quality and value of films. People genuinely care about what the Academy have to say and hold the Oscars as important. Whatever happened to people thinking for themselves? If a film doesn’t win the Oscar it doesn’t matter because it’s still good. I wrote about this topic a couple of years ago in reference to Leonardo DiCaprio and how people are furious that he still hasn’t won. In the aforementioned blog post I actually took the time to make a list of actors and directors who have been nominated but have never won, some of which never won an Oscar before passing away. The general message of this was that the Oscars don’t matter. Think about it, Alfred Hitchcock only ever won an honourary Oscar and yet he is accepted as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Did the Academy help us decide that? Absolutely not.
Let someone’s work speak for itself.
What the awards are to me are one day a year for us to let the outdated morons think they’re still relevant. If we didn’t give them this opportunity then they would continue to pontificate all year long as they desperately attempt to prove their conservative attitudes are still relevant. So what we do instead is a bit like when you go for a picnic and find yourself bothered by wasps. Instead of letting them terrorise your entire spread of food you select one piece of food, let’s say a cake for example, and you use it as a sacrifice, placing it a certain distance away from the spread of food in the hope that the wasps will be satisfied with your offering. That’s what the Oscars are. They are one day out of 365 that the liberal intelligentsia that largely populates the Earth have given to the Academy, so that the rest of the year can be spent peacefully without having to hear the moronic mumblings of such a poisonous institution.
So when the nominations for this years Oscars are released, and when the night of the ceremony arrives, I will not be paying attention. Until the day arrives when the Academy steps into the modern era I will not be listening to them. Until they accept that white men are not the dominating force in one of the most popular art forms in our culture, until they accept that women are a talented force to be reckoned with, and that films made outside of their mother tongue are superior to the cliche ridden shit spat out by American production companies, until then, I will pay as much attention to the Academy as they have paid to all of the talented individuals that have gone without recognition simply because they are not white men.
Forget the silly golden statuettes, and let someone’s legacy be built on how their work resonates among audiences.