Are the Oscar’s Obsolete? Or Just Out-of-Touch?

Short answer – Obsolete: no. Out-of-touch: hell yes. The reality is, awards season is a game. The whole industry, the Hollywood branch, is an elaborate game of politics. It has become less and less about who actually makes the best film or gives the best performance, and more about who can give interviews to the right outlets, pose for the right pictures with the right people, show up in the right places to the right parties, and tow the party line. It’s all about how you sell it and who you know.

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It’s no secret that if you’re about to launch a campaign for one of those shiny little gold dudes, the man you want on your team is Harvey Weinstein. He’s like the human embodiment of a lucky rabbit’s foot. For years now, Weinstein has had the midas touch when it comes to making or breaking a movie – and if he chooses to invest in a film, it’s basically a given that everyone surrounding it should clear their schedule come awards season, because they’re going to have to get on the bandwagon.

The silent star of movies such as Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, Fahrenheit 9/11, The King’s Speech, and Silver Linings Playbook; Weinstein is arguably the executive producer who plays the Hollywood-game the hardest. Not always the embodiment of a fair player, The Weinstein Company and Miramax campaigns have always been notoriously ruthless. There’s always the usual schmoozing, glittering parties, and cash-throwing; but there’s also been reports of smear campaigns, rule-stretching, and even the hiring of Presidential campaign managers.

924Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett star in CAROL
© 2015 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.

What’s even more worrying, is that the elitism becomes less of a problem when we look at the wider issues surrounding the diversity of the Hollywood machine. We’ve all seen the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite. It might seem like couch activism – all of those trending hashtags with no discernible action to speak of – but it’s not, and nor is it quite that simple. The reality of the situation, is that the general public don’t get a say in the most major of awards in Hollywood. We watch the movies. We hand over our cash. We put our arses in seats. But we don’t get a vote on the awards.

So who does vote on the awards? The Academy. And who’s that? “6,000 motion picture professionals”, apparently. It’s basically an invitation-only club of industry types; made up of roughly 94% white members, 77% males, 86% of whom are 50 or older, with a median age of 62 (according to a 2012 study conducted by the Los Angeles Times). It’s not exactly a well-rounded or progressive group of folk. And that’s the other half of the problem.

925Courtesy of Netflix.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the only way to get nominated for an Academy Award these days, is to make an absurdly expensive film which doesn’t step over any uncomfortable lines and can be readily backed by those with well-lined pockets. You wouldn’t exactly be wrong, because that’s all we’ve got as far as nominations this year, and last year, and several others in recent memory. At first glance, a movie like Carol might seem like an edgy choice – but it’s Cate Blanchett, and not the film, which is nominated. The Academy loves them some Blanchett – she’s the new Meryl – but she’s also a safe choice.

The fact is, several of this year’s most well received, popular, and brilliant films and performances aren’t nominated. The most talked about ‘snub’ has been Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, which stars newcomer Abraham Attah and Idris Elba; he who was considered to be all but a shoe-in considering his brilliant performance in the film. Michael B. Jordan also missed out for Creed, and Will Smith rounds out the other actor in the top three most talked about best-actor Oscar snubs. It all has an air of déjá-vu about it, considering Selma’s notorious snubs last year. All of the actors nominated for awards this year are white, only two of all the directors nominated are women (Liz Garbus for What Happened, Miss Simone?, and Deniz Gamze Ergüven for French film Mustang), and barely any of the films which dared to broach topics even slightly left of centre – like Straight Outta Compton, Going Clear, and Carol or Beasts‘ – were recognised.

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So what does it all mean? In my opinion, it means that the Oscars aren’t the crowning glory that they used to be. They are fast loosing their sheen, and it means that the films you should be paying attention to aren’t being recognised. It also means that we are in very real danger of being denied truly great cinema in the future, because the films worth investing in – art of substance and thought, that is brave and interesting – might just fade away if we don’t try to do something about the imbalance of power in the crazy high-stakes game that is Hollywood.

Photo Courtesy of Toby Canham/Getty