I often don’t write about topics of controversy. It’s not my thing. Feeding the monster and offering little to no resolution, only opinion, doesn’t further along any due course people think that they are on. These later years have brought a constant theme into your Facebook feeds, news headlines, and water-cooler talks: anything controversial. From Kanye to Trump, Reality TV to parenting methods, all points around and in-between, if it can create a divide of left and right, it will sell. It’s as if this type of reporting brings in easy business for something to stay at the top of everyone’s gossiping….oh. Now I understand.
It wasn’t always like this. Back when news traveled a bit slower, the front page was dedicated to topics of global, national, and local news of value. What was once on the bottom page in the entertainment section of your newspaper has made its way to the first thing you see when you open your browser. This article will not be about how the issues themselves are of little importance and have little value or how they are actually huge topics that should in every way be examined and discussed; but rather the business of exploiting these issues for free PR and in the process, belittling the value the source once had.
Right around Oscar season, we see many repeated articles telling us over and over about the white-washing of Hollywood. The unfair pay actors and their co-workers received during a project. The snubs and predictions for the year’s best and worst. All of these reasons and more are something I would like to talk about because it’s ruining the legitimacy of the award. With every new controversy the Academy Awards seems to be involved with, the more we should be questioning, “Do these awards even matter anymore?” After watching another year of these awards, one thing is a constant reminder and is made to a point by the host and presenters alike. Everyone involved in this show are rich, white, and are (usually) established in Hollywood. And every year these elite don’t seem to care for those very reasons and eye roll every time the white guilt comes their way. Still, everyone wants a piece of that action because in a life where everything is available and exposed, recognition is the one true award everyone is after.
Chris Rock did a great job as host this year. Before he walked out on stage, everyone knew what was going to happen. His jokes made good on addressing the issues as well as punching pretty hard at places they needed to be. Will any of it help Hollywood? Slowly, I’m sure. The issue is a generational one and not just in regards to movies. The biggest improvement was dealing with the large problem of acceptance speeches. The Academy did a great job of having a scrolling marquee with the award winners “thank you” to friends, family, and colleagues. The downside to that was now the winners can take time to press their political agendas as the soft strings hurry them along. Still, a step in the right direction.
Let’s start with the bigger topic, #OscarsSoWhite. The people protesting the white-washed Hollywood have their hearts in the right place. I don’t think anyone is arguing that. They did however shoot themselves in both feet by doing something very dangerous in today’s world: they made it trendy. There’s a hashtag, a Facebook group, and even websites dedicated to this. You just gave the Academy free PR for the next 5 years. Why this amazes me is because years ago, the Academy Awards viewership and attendance was dropping by double digit percentages in key demographics. And in efforts to expose their white ways, the spotlight is back to the golden statue in revitalized focus. The best part for the award show is that Chris Rock was the host this year. Huge racial controversy in an already racially tense nation now with a black comedian as your host? I’m willing to bet this year will show its biggest numbers in years.
No one will disagree that Hollywood is a white man’s game. Women are underpaid but can at least find work easier if they’re white. Non-white actors and actresses are typically type-casted into their expected roles as “Maid #1” or “Main Character’s Friend”. Because of these practices, adjustments have been made to even further the segregation already apparent in Hollywood. This has been going on since before the Wayan’s Brothers, since before Spike Lee, since before Blaxploitation and is gaining more traction with names like Tyler Perry. Movies now have a large stock of “Black Movies” that appeal more to its demographic, and instead of merging everything together, they have made into their own sections. These are not black Americans trying to make movies specifically for a black audience, but actors, actresses, writers, and directors doing things for themselves because work in Hollywood is that segregated.
There is a new hope that is “awakening” with the new age of blockbuster movies. We see comic book movies and action reboots starting to include more diversity and not just in one movie, but in billion dollar franchises. It’s a step in the right direction because of the younger generation that watch these movies NEED to learn that a character (especially a fictional one) is not defined by color, but by their actions and development. This will take some time to fix. Which brings me back to the topic before I started to digress. Making #OscarsSoWhite points a finger at what Hollywood is doing wrong, much like how you discipline a dog for making a mess on the rug. The Academy will now not only be expected to include more diversity in all of their categories next year, but almost forced to give the Oscar to a few of these nominees.
This is what I am afraid of: The Forced Oscar. I feel like this is the biggest eye roll in every award ceremony. Hollywood has been doing it for years with what I call, “The Career Award” and it’s such a bummer. The curious case of the right actor but the wrong movie. I’ll get back into that later on because the same thing is going to happen from now on every time an actor of color wins an Oscar from here on out. This person will think to themselves as they walk up to the stage, whether they truly deserved this award because of the hard work they performed, or because Hollywood is trying to make good on including everyone in their award show.
It’s a downward spiral. Mixing an obligatory race award in with the obligatory career award tied in with the already forced “crowd favorite” award that has since made the animation category pretty much pointless every year that Pixar makes a movie (which is now every year). Why even bother with these awards anymore? After 2009 when they increased the best pictures from 5 nominees to 10 nominees it almost confirmed that the Oscars are nothing more than a high school election made only for the already established. I mentioned 3 Forced Oscars so far, but we don’t need to stop there.
The body-morph award/nomination given to those who treat their body weight like garbage or go for the transgender roles in order to almost guarantee recognition.
The disability award/nomination given to those who have mental or physical disabilities, and always overcome them.
The doppelganger award/nomination given to those who really didn’t have to act better than anyone else, but rather just look and act like the historical figure they are playing.
These have become so routine and played that actors will choose the roles based on these key factors because they know it will ensure a nomination at the very least. But none of these Forced Oscar titles can be compared to the career award. It can be awkward and borderline embarrassing for some actors because they know why they won. Of course they are grateful for the acknowledgement and the respect given as they make the slow walk to the stage, and the crowd gets to their feet in uproarious applause as the “ovation” light blinks above them, and the actor turns to the house with a smile as the air and feel in the auditorium says, “Well, you finally got one. Enjoy the freebie.”
The way these nominations are set up and created are also part of the problem. In the given year around the award season, the group responsible for nominating are given a box with a large number of movies. Somewhere over 100+ each with a description and contending category they are likely to be placed into. It is hard to think that every individual is actually watching every single movie in this box. And then to judge each one of them as buzz for some are talked about much more than others. A 65 year old white male will probably pick up “Bridge of Spies” before getting around to “Straight Outta Compton”, if even it ever gets viewed at all.
If Hollywood is going to reexamine their whitewashed walls, it should also take time to look over which roles are deserving to win. Who am I to say that Jeff Bridges didn’t deserve to win in “Crazyheart” or that Al Pacino didn’t deserve best hoo-ah in “The Scent of a Woman.” And the popular mentions of John Wayne’s only Oscar for “True Grit” and more notably Humphrey Bogart for winning his only award in “African Queen” despite being known for his gangster/crime movies.
Leonardo winning for “The Revenant” is the same treatment given to the actors before him. Watching him act in this movie was difficult because of the distraction of knowing that this could be the movie where he FINALLY gets his Oscar. You watch with a bit more favor towards him knowing that he still hasn’t won and also knowing that as good of an actor as he is, that he deserves the award…but for this movie?
These are actors better known for their roles that didn’t win. And it’s because they didn’t win that year that makes the Oscars the all-time top movie award. It’s a hard award to win. Actors really need to stand out and become their character. These awards should not be given for any reason other than, for that year, YOU acted the best. Not because we really appreciate all the movies you made before this one. Not because you’re some historical doppelganger. And certainly not just because you lost 50 pounds for a role. An Academy Award is a huge accomplishment in Hollywood. Keeping the categories at 5 make it top tiers for everyone who is playing. If the last several years has shown the viewing audience anything, it’s that everyone takes winning an award very seriously, except for the Academy that is giving them away.