Pop Culture Rewind: Award Season

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Words | Gabrielle Edwards

It’s that time of year again! Award season! Finally, a chance to celebrate the success and talent of a variety of talented actors and filmmakers. Or so we thought… 

For years, arguments have been made that such awards only represent a select few in the industry, that being, established rich straight white men. As the years go by, the glamour of this season has started to peel back revealing the biases that exist behind the voting panels and processes. As a new decade begins with the 92nd Academy Awards taking place in February, let’s take a trip down memory lane and discuss some of the biggest issues and controversies these esteemed events have become known for and how they weigh up today.

One of the biggest and most obvious criticisms award shows receive is the lack of diversity in their voting panel, nominees and winners. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times conducted a study revealing that 94% of Academy Award Voters were white and 76% were men. In 2016, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended online as a response to it being the second consecutive year where four out of five nominated directors and all twenty acting nominees were white. This was amongst only two people of colour winning any award throughout the night. Responding to this criticism, the Academy vowed to double the diversity of Academy voters including more people of colour and women by 2020. Statistically, they have somewhat been able to reach this goal, but the percentages are still astoundingly low. As of 2019, 32% of Academy members are women and 16% are people of colour, improving from the 25% of women and 8% of people of colour from 2015. Though, their still clear minority-status is easily reflected in this year’s nominees.

For example, from the 2020 Academy Awards, only two acting nominees and one director nominee were people of colour. This year’s BAFTAs nominations share a similar story with not a single person of colour being nominated across the four acting categories. In fact, Scarlett Johanson was nominated twice in both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories (as in the Oscars), alongside Margot Robbie being nominated twice within the same category itself.  

Regardless, actors such as Awkwafina, Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx were able to get some recognition through nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Lupita Nyong’o was particularly noticed for being snubbed by the majority of award shows this season, despite being named the best actress of the year for her role in Jordan Peele’s Us by a variety of film associations including the New York Film Critics Circle and the Toronto Film Critics Association.

2020 also marked yet another year of no women being nominated for best director for an Oscar, Golden Globe or BAFTA. Over the 92 years over which the Academy Awards has run, only five female directors have been nominated with only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, taking home the prize in 2010. Alongside this, only thirteen female directed films have ever been nominated for Best Picture. While many have critiqued that perhaps the issue is women not making as many good films, this can easily be argued through successful directors such as Greta Gerwig, Lulu Wang, Alma Har’el, Marielle Heller, Olivia Wilde, Lorene Scafaria and plenty of other women having all directed critically acclaimed films in the past year that have received universal praise.

International titles have also strongly been disregarded by the Academy and other Western award shows over the years. The category of Best Foreign Language film seemed specifically created to spotlight films that would most likely be snubbed by other categories by disinterested old Academy members. 2020 marks Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite as only the sixth time that a film has been nominated as both Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film. Bong couldn’t be more accurate when he describes the Oscars as a “local event” while he asserts that Americans should be more open to reading subtitles when watching international films. 

In parallel to this, The Farewell was nominated at this year’s Golden Globes for best foreign language film, despite being written and directed by an Asian-American woman about the experiences of an Asian-American woman. In a recent interview, director Lulu Wang shared how her film opened conversations about what exactly classifies a film as “foreign,” whether it be impacted by the language of the film or nationality of the creators or studio. Unfortunately, her film was not nominated for any categories at the Oscars despite the critical acclaim it received, particularly after its selection at the Sundance Film Festival.

Another common criticism of film award ceremonies is the fact that the highest regarded movies all seem to cater toward a specific audience and tend to not be particularly engaging or appealing for the average movie goer. This launched the creation of an entire category of films commonly known as “Oscar bait.” Oscar bait describes a film seemingly produced with the main intent of being recognised by the Academy Awards. This means many of these films are released toward the end of the year in time to make the nominee cut including popular films over the years such as The Blind Side, A Beautiful Mind and The King’s Speech. Some 2020 Oscar bait films include Bombshell and The Irishman. Hilariously enough, Cats was also penned to be an Oscar winning movie, with Tim Hooper pushing for the film’s early release in time for nominations. That is of course before the rush of negative reviews and complaints about the incomplete CGI were spread… Over the last few years I’ve attempted to watch as many of the Best Picture nominees as I can, and patterns have definitely emerged. While I appreciate that a lot of talent and hard-work has gone into many of the films, few of them I would personally deem as favourites or worthy of the hype they receive. 

This begs the question of how can these ceremonies maintain their popularity amongst the majority of movie viewers, aside from packing as many celebrity presenters as possible into the ceremony. In 2018, the Academy Awards announced the inclusion of a new category for “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film” which was met with immense amounts of criticism particularly from Academy members. Many thought the category would diminish the chance of popular blockbuster films from being considered for the Best Picture category. And, of course, there was also the consideration of what determines a film to be ‘popular’ and how this would differ from films in other categories which often still have a large amount of viewers. Black Panther was instantly predicted to be the winner of this category if it were to be awarded in the 2019 Oscar ceremony. Though, some criticised the way a film heavily featuring elements of African culture with an almost entirely black cast being awarded in this one category could give the appearance of the film being “separate but other.” Alternatively, some showed support, arguing that the category would call back to the Academy Awards from a few decades ago, in which the majority of Best Picture winners were blockbuster movies, as opposed to the mostly indie winners in today’s age. Despite this, promptly following the initial announcement, the Academy Awards postponed the category, seemingly indefinitely. 

All in all, this year’s series of award show nominees and winners can be simply described as disappointing but not surprising. While changes have taken place, it clearly isn’t happening fast enough or to the extent necessary to make meaningful change.

As the years continue it seems like viewership to the awards is decreasing. The 2018 Academy Awards reported the lowest US viewership in recent years with 26.5 million viewers. This paled in comparison to the 41.6 million viewers of the 2010 awards and 43.7 million viewers from 2014 (in which Ellen’s iconic Oscar selfie took place). The Golden Globes ratings follow a similar pattern with the 2020 award show holding the lowest ratings and viewership numbers from the past five years. While this could be the effect of a variety of issues, including the aging demographic of their main audiences, there’s a challenge present in trying to draw in new viewers.

While it may not be the sole cause, having nominees represent a wider variety of viewers and genres of movies would surely be a step in the right direction. So, as we go into the new decade, hopefully The Academy and other award nominating bodies can recognise the need for more diverse nominees and winners. Though, let’s be realistic here, we might be waiting for an extremely long time…

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