This year marks the 89th Academy Awards. Slated to reach to 30-40 million people, the winners will be front page news, the best dressed will grace magazine covers and website lists for weeks.
The History of the Oscars
The Academy Awards have come a long way from their humble beginnings at the Roosevelt Hotel.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences started after a dinner party the MGM Studio Chief, Louis B, Mayer, told his guests he wanted to organize a group to benefit the film industry. A year later, 12 awards were given out and 270 attendees filled the hotel’s Blossom Room.
It’s a film industry tradition in an industry that has lots of traditions, like calling the “Martini Shot” for the final shot of the day or saying “crossing” before walking in front of a camera.
The Oscars purpose is still to benefit the film industry. It’s a time of year to show to gather the prettiest people in the world to create a must-see spectacle that, in truth, is a 3 hour long advertisement.
“I don’t really like the Oscars; it’s a commercial promotional event. It helps immeasurably to sell films, but it’s hardly the Nobel prize.” – Richard Attenborough
The Oscar benefits the film industry by reminding viewers that they sell dreams; dreams that turn into stories and then turned into movies, dreams of winning an award by your peers, and dreams that your celebrity crush will thank you for your service. Everyone wants to see their dreams come true and Oscar night is a time to witness what that feels like.
The Academy Members nominate who they believe best represents their craft in that year. But are they? Are they just famous people giving other famous people awards regardless of what the general public financially honors every year?
It must be extremely hard to be an Academy Member and stay objective when voting, especially when it’s a subjective medium. One person’s film might not be your cup of tea but mean the world to someone else. Also what if you didn’t like the film but you worked with the person in the past and personally appreciate their work? How do you vote objectively for “The Best” when it’s all subjective?
The Academy came to the conclusion that using a limited-peer based system was reflecting a subjective bias when last year’s #OscarsSoWhite brought backlash. They instituted for more diverse membership and this year’s nominees perhaps reflect that.
This isn’t the only time the Academy has tried to combat and bias. In 2004 they shorted the time between nominations and awards because to limit the factors of studios “buying wins” in the form of advertising campaigns targeted at Academy Members.
If you would like to know more about how to be an Academy Member as well as how a film is qualified, nominated and picked for voting check out this video.
“One of the more noble things the Oscars can do is pay attention to movies no one knows about. Blockbusters don’t need much help.” – Jeff Daniels
Boosting Little Known Films
This is why categories like Best Documentary (feature and short) and Best Short Film (live action and animated) are wonderful because most times these are films that a general audience wouldn’t know about if it wasn’t for being listed on your ballot.
But in years like 1997 when the Oscars felt more like the Independent Spirit Awards with nominees like Shine, Secretes & Lies, and Fargo, the next year the pendulum swung back and Titanic swiped the nominations and the box office.
Even if you are a film critic there are strong chances that a film you haven’t seen will be nominated in one of the 24 categories. This brings people to the theaters in the slower January-February months and boosts rentals and purchases of films that have already completed their theater run.
“When we talk about Oscars, it’s almost as a symbol of excellence, and the American public and the worldwide public accept that symbol.” –Harvey Weinstein
The Oscars have worked hard to cement itself as that symbol of excellence and with great power comes great responsibility. Responsibility to not only the film industry to reward “the best” but also to movie fans to introduce them to great work.
The nominations do matter. They matter to those that are nominated. They increase the quality and quantity of work going forward, a nomination or award has the ability to increase the household name of an actor or director.
To the general public, the nominations put a spotlight on films and actors to pay attention to.
The Oscars in 2017
This year we had some amazing spotlight put on our gal’s of color. Viola Davis (Fences), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Naomie Harris (Moonlight) make up 3 of the 5 women nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Ava DuVernay is nominated for her amazing documentary feature, 13th. Joi McMillion (Moonlight) is the first black woman to be nominated for Best Film Editing. Ai-Ling Lee (La La Land) is nominated twice this year in the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories.
When talking about gals and Oscar nominations it’s hard not to talk about Meryl Streep. She also broke records this year becoming the most nominated performer in history with her 20th Oscar nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins.
Other notable gals nominated this year are Mildred Iatrou for La La Land’s Sound Editing, Renee Tondelli for Deepwater Horizon’s Sound Editing, and Mica Levi for Jackie who is the first woman in 16 years to be nominated for Best Score.
Men still make up 80% of this year’s nominations. However 7 of the 20 acting nominees were people of color, something we haven’t seen since 2007, and 9 female producers were nominated in the Best Picture category.
Perhaps more than any other industry the film industry has the ability to inspire those in arts and beyond. From a mom in Maine, to a girl in Ghana, movies permeate cultural barriers and show us a shared humanity or a gives us a model of a hero to strive to be. Movies do matter and when more diverse creators are recognized The Academy inspires more unique voices to stop dreaming and start creating.
Do we need more creators? You bet we do. Center of the Study of Women in TV & Film reports that 76% of all female characters in 2015 were white. In 2016 the number of women employed behind the scenes of the top 500 films was 19%.
We can and must inspire better, because we all benefit.