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Are the Oscars still relevant?

Written by Olivia Walker

The Oscars have had a chaotic few years with bad hosts, accusations of racism, and a list of problematic winners that have made the ceremony closer to a soap opera than the grand event it is supposed to be. With all this, and the face of cinema changing rapidly, there is an argument that the 91 year old institution is rapidly becoming outdated.

Traditionally,  the Oscars has been a chance for Hollywood to show how noble the film industry really is and how forward thinking it is on issues of the day. Except, in reality, it really isn’t. The Oscars have become about red carpets, musical performances, the hosts’ jokes, who trips over, who forgets to thank their partner, who makes a political statement — anything but the actual films being made. In 2017, what should have been a big moment for Moonlight was instead upstaged by administrative bungling. So instead of being the year Moonlight won, 2017 was the year they got the envelopes mixed up. James Luxford states that: “It’s gone from the pinnacle of cinematic excellence to a really well dressed variety show. Remember the Ellen selfie a few years ago? Can you remember the film that won Best Picture that year?”

“It’s gone from the pinnacle of cinematic excellence to a really well dressed variety show. Remember the Ellen selfie a few years ago? Can you remember the film that won Best Picture that year?”

James Luxford

A new Morning Consult poll shows that half of America doesn’t think the Academy Awards are relevant and most think Hollywood figures and the organisation behind the Oscars are out of touch with the public. The root cause of the problems around the Oscars could be the composition of the members of the Academy. In a 2014 report, The Atlantic stated that the members were 94 percent White and 77 percent male. The Academy has however taken steps to change this composition. In 2018, the Academy added 928 members from 59 countries, which 49 percent of these members were female and 38 percent of the new members were people of colour.

There have been a lot of controversies around the Oscars. Each year, there are questions around each award. The Best Picture award each year has had its share of disputes. This years ceremony felt especially representative of that detail, as Peter Farrelly’s highly divisive biographical drama Green Book beat the odds and won best picture, along with two other major awards (Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor). Social media immediately erupted, and the decision has been, to put it mildly, controversial. BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee reportedly tried to storm out of the Dolby Theatre after the best picture winner was announced and Jordan Peele, the Oscar-winning writer-director behind last year’s ‘Get Out,’ was among other attendee’s who reportedly did not applaud the win. Spike Lee later told reporters, “Every time someone’s driving somebody, I lose” which is in reference to his breakout film “Do the Right Thing” which lost the Oscar for adapted screenplay to 1990s “Driving Miss Daisy.”

It has been argued that Green Book was one of the weaker reviewed films of this year’s nominees, and its critical and commercial success were easily outweighed by films like A Star is Born or Black Panther. Other nominee’s such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman offered fresh, vibrant and urgent pieces of storytelling across styles and genres, Green Book felt like a film out of time and a clear example of the Academy making the choice to keep its feet firmly planted in the past.

“Green Book felt like a film out of time and a clear example of the Academy making the choice to keep its feet firmly planted in the past.”

This proves particularly irritating because the Oscars have spent the past few months desperately trying to prove that they aren’t irrelevant in the current Hollywood age. They have heavily diversified their membership in an effort to avoid the exact problems Green Book’s win hints at. They eagerly want to appeal to more mainstream populist tastes but the films that best exemplify that still weren’t rewarded. A win for Black Panther, Roma or BlacKkKlansman would have signalled a fresh route forward for the Academy, a way for them to position themselves as the true voices of the entertainment majority and not just its old white male elite. Any of those three films winning would have done more to legitimise their place in the business than any made-up Best Popular Film category ever could. They had the opportunity to change and once again, they rejected it.

There still are many people however who still believe the Oscars play an important role. Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst, said the Oscars’ importance still resonates throughout the entertainment industry. 2018 Best Picture nominees “The Shape of Water,” “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” saw ticket sales increase by 100 percent or more on the day nominees were announced. “Recognition from the Academy breathes new life into films that have been in theatres for months or are largely unheard of,” he said. 

“Recognition from the Academy breathes new life into films that have been in theatres for months or are largely unheard of”

Paul Dergarabedian

The Oscars as an idea still matter. There is a satisfaction of seeing ‘Academy Award Winner’ next to your favourite movie or actor. All the fans who punched the air when Leonardo DiCaprio won Best Actor for the ‘The Revenant’ will agree. He was still the same great actor he always was, but this stamp of authenticity seems to matter.  Obviously, there is never going to be a year where everybody agrees. Movies are art. People see different things in them and everyone sees excellence in different ways. However, If the awards are a reflection of Hollywood as a whole, there is a lot of work to be done for the reality of the awards to match their status.

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