The Oscars: It’s Time For A New Strategy

The Oscars are an event and an institution, a particular lens through which to evaluate and embrace something that we already enjoy. They’re great to both celebrate and lambast, to mock and simultaneously embrace – selectively, perhaps – be it for the fanfare, the accolades, the communal gathering, or the gambling.

The Oscars only mean as much as we invest in them, and invest in them we do; perhaps because it’s the last awards show of the season, we deem it more important than others. Or because those in attendance aren’t getting drunk, it’s more respectable.

Curiously, the Oscars are a lot like sports: we find one product especially entertaining, but the group behind the televised showcase may itself be pretty suspect, driven by money and abounding with problems of corruption, lack of diversity, or institutional racism.

It’s a broken system all around, and not just because of lack of diversity – which many have admitted isn’t just about the voters, but a Hollywood machine that doesn’t put enough people of colour in movies, doesn’t promote them enough, and in turn doesn’t see them acknowledged. News broke recently that amid pressure, the Academy has set a goal of dramatically increasing its diversity by changing voting requirements, recruitment, and governing. But that’s not the only problem, though surely the most egregious and easily to target. So let’s fix the Oscars, and start with that.

Diversity

A lot has already been said on this by a lot of different people, and rightly so. Yes, the Oscars need to be more diverse, but let’s not use this one awards show as a sort of annual holiday to get outraged. The nominations are a problem, but also representative of a greater issue. One way we can fix the Oscars is stop using it as the one time of year to get upset about diversity in Hollywood. It should be a constant, ongoing discussion. And while we’re at it, Hollywood has a problem with sexism too, making a lot of awful movies that perpetuate disgusting stereotypes (I’m looking at you, Get Hard). The fact that the majority of Academy Awards voters are white males is hardly surprising.

More Nominations

As we wrote recently, there are a lot of movies made every year. Nearly 700 were released in 2015. The last 5 years, and 8 of the last 10, have seen at least 600 films released annually. In 30 years, the number hasn’t slipped below 400. Even if half of those movies can be dismissed as not worth watching right off the bat, for whatever arbitrary reason, that’s still a ton of films for voters to have to watch and judge. It would be a ton even if this were a full time job – which, for voters, it’s not.

The point is, of all the films released in 2015, are there really only 8 worthy of praise? The Academy really couldn’t fill up the 10 allotted slots, adding in maybe Creed or Star Wars or Love & Mercy or Ex-Machina or Beasts of No Nation? While we’re at it, let’s add a few more Best Foreign Film nominees; most people haven’t see any of them, so why not throw some countries some love and promote something new?

Obviously you can’t have a show that has some 25 nominations in a category, but it’s insulting that the Academy can’t seem to find 10 – and even then, it’s absurd to think that only 10 can be worthy. Having 12 Best Picture nominations still seems plausible, but surely something else can be done …

New Categories

The Golden Globes are ridiculous, which makes them pretty fun. They call The Martian a comedy just so they can honour The Martian. It’s a good movie, so sure, it should be rewarded. Now, the Academy shouldn’t and can’t go that route, because yes, it’s silly, and it’s already been done.

There are other options, though. They already have a Best Animated Feature and a Best Foreign Film. Why not Best Blockbuster? Select 5 nominees from the top 10-15 grossing films of the year and pick a winner. In danger of becoming out of touch (last year’s nominees saw American Sniper earn as much at the box office as the other seven combined), the Academy needs to become more inclusive while still staying (somewhat) eclectic. Thus, a category needs to be created to acknowledge the masses.

Furthermore, why not throw out some honourable mentions? Capping the acting nominees at 5 is plausible, but make up some new designation and send it the way of Idris Elba and Oscar Isaac.

Better Writers, Producers, and Directors

If you’re going to put on a show that honours the best filmmaking of the past year, then you had better recruit some people who are pretty good at creating something entertaining and intriguing. It’s not merely picking the right host: last year, Neil Patrick Harris was a much-anticipated emcee following a series of successful hosting duties at the Tony Awards, but his talents were wasted with a series of vicious, lowbrow jokes (which in addition to being out of place were also not his style) and a silly sequence that saw him running in his underwear à la Birdman. Billy Crystal was great at the parodies, and even Seth MacFarlane was winking along when he sang “We Saw Your Boobs.” Neil Patrick Harris was being misused; he made one joke about the Oscars being all white, and then ignored the topic – chances are that Chris Rock won’t.

So: get better writers. Craft a tighter, focused show that has a theme more specific than “We Love the Movies!”. And make it funny. I mean, the jokes don’t have to be The Martian level of funny, but we can do better.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.

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