If there’s anything the last few months have proven, it’s that the Oscars are unwell. The trouble started last August when it was announced that the 91st Academy Awards ceremony would feature the first-ever award for “Most Popular Film.” It didn’t take long for internet backlash to cause a hasty removal of the category. Unfortunately for the show, subsequent developments for these upcoming 91st Oscars have made even the “Moonlight” and “La La Land” Best Picture snafu seem like the show running at peak professionalism.
Oscar nomination lists are already annual hubs for controversy and cynicism within the film community, but this year the Academy seems to be trying to hit all-time records for community strife. Included in the Best Picture category this year, among films like “Roma” and “The Favorite,” are films like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Vice,” two films decidedly unpopular among critics. Many are also taking issue against “Black Panther’s” Best Picture nomination, “Black Panther” being the first superhero film nominated for the award. “Bohemian Rhapsody” seems to be going for bonus controversy points with sexual assault allegations against director Bryan Singer resurfacing.
Additionally, the Academy is apparently going ahead with omiting a host from the ceremony following Kevin Hart stepping down from the position. This is a move that seems bizarre and surreal and apparently happened once in 1989.
“The Academy, then, year after year finds itself in the paradoxical position of attracting general audiences to the ceremony while honoring films that these same general audiences probably don’t care about.” – Robert Piwonka ’22
The real capital-b Big controversy, however, occurred only earlier this week and casts doubt on the idea that the showrunners actually have any idea about what they’re doing. It seems that the producers, amid the usual annual complaints of the Oscars’ length (the show usually runs for over three hours), decided to omit certain categories from being broadcasted live. These categories included cinematography and editing, two of the most vital aspects of filmmaking. The backlash was deafening, and a decision-reversal inevitable. Legions of filmmakers and industry insiders took to Twitter to condemn the Academy, including “Roma’s” multi-nominated Alfonso Cuarón.
This mess can be traced back to the inherent contradiction within the Oscars themselves: namely, that the Awards seek both to honor the year’s best films and cinematic achievements, whilst simultaneously pulling in the highest ratings possible. This becomes a problem for the Academy when the financial success and film/artistic quality of films diverge (see: the “Transformers” franchise), a long-familiar trend within film history. The Academy, then, year after year finds itself in the paradoxical position of attracting general audiences to the ceremony while honoring films that these same general audiences probably don’t care about.
What’s frustrating is that these baffling decisions made at the Academy are clearly just a futile attempt to wave off diminishing ratings – last year’s Oscars ceremony received some of the lowest ratings in the history of the show, so it’s understandable that there’d be at least some level of administrative strife on the side of the Academy. However, the Academy only seems to be hastening its own demise as the Oscars fade from the prominent place it once held in American pop culture. Between the (likely) torpedoed ratings, the lack of a host and all of the other Academy-induced controversies, the Oscars this year almost have the quality of a slow-moving car crash. And this is one crash that has been in the making for quite some time now.