Let’s stop honoring problematic cinema
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for awards shows. There’s something about dressing up and spending a night honoring the industry I aspire to have a career in that makes me proud. But it gets harder and harder to defend award shows.
It’s hard to be a fan of film and not be upset about the Oscars this year. After a wonderful but problematic year for film, the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences has chosen to play it safe this season with its nominations, picking nominations in an effort to attract a wider audience after last year’s ceremony was the lowest watched in 44 years with an estimated 26.5 million viewers.
The common ground of disgust lies in the Best Picture category, which seems to be a poorly made hodgepodge of the year’s blockbusters like A Star Is Born and Black Panther, and films that were seemingly loved by the public. Unlike the 2018’s ceremony which was made up mostly of independent and genre films, a lot of people are more likely to see the Oscars this year because they know the films and people being nominated. The Best Picture category displays the Academy’s successes and failures, a slice of where the industry seems to be heading, or in reality, where it seems to be stuck.
Green Book, nominated for Best Picture and four other awards, is a true story of a “friendship” between an African American pianist and the bodyguard who accompanies him on tour through the 1960s south. While some love the film, others have viewed it as a tale of racism through the eyes of a person not affected by it, romanticizing the concept of a white savior to the audience as well as the “friendship” portrayed in the film. According to the family of the actual pianist, Don Shirley, the two were not close at all and had a strictly professional relationship. The Shirley family has subsequently denounced the film.
But it doesn’t end there. In the years since the #metoo movement started gaining media attention, the Academy has made strong statements about standing with survivors, including a montage during the 2018 ceremony led by Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Annabella Sciorra. This year, though, director Bryan Singer has been given a Best Picture nomination for his work on Bohemian Rhapsody, despite numerous reports and allegations of sexual abuse.
Both films follow a template that moviegoers have seen too often to count: the biopic. These films are systematically chosen to be nominated for the Oscars, no matter what other original content is in theaters that year. In the past 30 years, 32 of 189 nominations for Best Picture have been biopics. Now that both Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody are frontrunners for winning, there is cause for concern. With the 2016 Best Picture going to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and 2017’s to Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the Academy seems to be taking one step forward and three steps back.
While there are losses in Best Picture, there are also significant wins. Alfonso Cuarón’s critical and commercial hit Roma is nominated, the first foreign film up for the title since 2012’s Amour. Black Panther and Blackkklansman are nominated, both directed by people of color. Black Panther is also the first superhero movie to be nominated in the category.
I could go on about how there are no women nominated for Best Director, despite the high-grossing films in 2018 that were made by women. The Academy seemed to ignore independent films such as Eighth Grade and Sorry To Bother You completely, and only glossing over others, like If Beale Street Could Talk and First Reformed with Supporting Actress and Screenplay nominations. But these are all issues we have heard before.
If this is a problem that seems to never go away, why should we care about the Oscars? Unfortunately, because it has become integral to the film industry. Studios see what films get nominated for and strive to create films like those, and the cycle repeats again and again, with biopics and digestible films.
I want an Oscars ceremony that gives filmmakers like me hope. Hope in the fact that no matter who they are or where they’re from or what kind of story they’re telling, there is still a chance of being recognized.
Julia LaCava is a second year Writing for Film, TV, & Emerging Media major and contributing writer who’ll be watching the Independent Spirit Awards this year. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.