The relevance of the Academy Awards after 94 years

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The 94th annual Academy Awards took place on March 27, and as with every year, spectators tune in to see which nominees won arguably some of the most prestigious awards in film. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Academy Awards first ceremony began in 1929 and within a 94 year span, media, technology and opportunities for those in the film industry has expanded beyond just the silver screen. The Academy, officially known as The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is a professional organization for those engaged in the production of motion pictures in the United States according to the Encyclopedia Britannica and membership, by invitation only, is based on distinctive achievements in one or more of 24 categories including best picture, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, directing, original screenplay. According to Encyclopedia, the Academy Awards are given to those who have been nominated and won in the 24 categories and the physical award given to the winners is known as an Oscar for which the Academy Awards is also known.

Myung Chun/Los Angeles Times/TNS Ariana DeBose accepts the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in "West Side Story" at the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on Sunday, March 27, 2022, in California. (Myung Chun/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The relevance of the awards and what the Academy stands for in the past couple of years has been discussed among actors on social media and critics, according to an article by The Washington Post. The article discusses the Oscars and why they matter as well as the argument of careers being launched or curbed depending on the wins or losses of nominees. Halle Berry was one of the actresses mentioned in the piece and her 2002 best actress win for “Monster’s Ball,” according to the article, made it harder to book roles as there still were not spaces made for Black actresses in the industry despite Berry being an Oscar winner. She remains the only Black best actress winner in the almost century long Academy history. 

The conversation surrounding race and the Oscars gained viral traction in 2015 with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, according to an article in The New York Times. The hashtag, coined by media strategist April Reign according to the article, came in behind the Black Lives Matter movement and led to the 2019 wins for 13 winners of color. However for 2020, one person of color was nominated for the best actress in a leading role category. 

I think when discussing the Academy Awards and the relevance it has to the entertainment industry, the long history of exclusion must be discussed in order to compare past award outcomes and the Oscars now. It can be said that the awards have allowed for history making moments like Halle Berry winning best actress, but that was 20 years ago. The names I see as Oscar winning and associated with prestige as well as the overall winners are largely white men. Big names in film like Scorsese, Pacino, Spielberg and Tarantino are synonymous with the Academy Awards and continue to be nominated even with the expansion of diversity in cinema and the entertainment industry. According to a 2018 article from The Boston Globe, from 2000 to 2018, 72 actors and actresses had won Oscars and 60 of them were white and in the top categories, (best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, and best screenplay) 89% of nominations went to white people and 71.1% of nominations went to men, according to a 2021 analysis from Insider.

I think awards that are viewed as prestigious or career changing in the film industry should reflect the industry itself. This makes me think about the discussion of streaming services and filmmakers creating movies for the small screen as well. With so many movies with different art styles being available across multiple platforms that are not just movie theaters, great directors and talented actors from all over the world are able to produce stories for more people than ever to watch. I see this as a positive aspect of the industry and something that the Oscars don’t currently reflect in their nominations and awards. The awards have the potential to allow people to open doors for the next great filmmakers and actors, like with “Parasite” in 2020 when it won best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best international feature film, according to the Oscars website. The film became the first non-English language film to win best picture and the awards should be recognizing more non-English language films as a whole. 

What I see for the future of prestige in the awards culture, is a lack of relevance because of the inevitability of racial and gender bias. If the Academy Awards would want to expand its horizons as well as continue to include people of color and women into the equation, I think a way to do it would be to listen to audiences and diversify nomination committees. The 2020-2021 awards committee included 15 members and out of the 15 three were people of color according to the Oscars website. Criticism and hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite comes from legitimate and valid observations. Understanding that what is seen on screens when it comes to representation impacts not just actors and film crews, but those who look to the screens as a way to see themselves mirrored in a way that is associated with accomplishment and talent is incredibly important for future filmmakers and actors. The Oscars displaying what is shown as the best of the best in the industry I think allows for kids and aspiring filmmakers and actors to believe they can accomplish something as distinguished as an Oscar. I don’t, however, think this train of thought is realistic for a historically white and male run industry that values works of white men over anyone else that is qualified for esteemed nominations. The awards will lose their standing with the general public eventually and will no longer matter when talent and value can be shown to them from the comfort of their homes and judged for themselves.

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