The problem with the Academy Awards

Anthony Lopez, Contributing Writer

There are few things more consistent in this life than the Academy Awards (otherwise known as the Oscars), now in their 92nd year and set to premiere on Feb. 9. It has been an odd year for film; while there have been some true gems that elevate the cinematic experience – some of which are appropriately recognized by the Oscars – there has been a noticeable surplus of disappointing or rather unremarkable films.

“Joker,” a film which racked up a total of 11 nominations from the Academy Awards (the most of the ceremony), was released to incredibly polarizing reviews. Some deemed it a masterpiece, bolstered by a remarkable performance by Joaquin Phoenix. Others, including myself, found that its themes were only superficial, and the main character — supposedly a villain — was instead almost excused for his actions, whether it be because of society’s cruelty or his own mental illness. “Joker” is a confused film that seems to be unsure exactly of what it is attempting to say, which makes its looming presence at this year’s Oscars all the more disheartening.

Nevertheless, there were also films that received proper recognition this year.  “1917,” a brilliant and visceral experience, was nominated for 10 awards, including Best Picture. “Knives Out,” a deceptively clever film with an incredible cast received a Best Original Screenplay nomination. “I Lost My Body,” a French animated film about a dismembered hand attempting to find its owner’s body, received a surprise nomination for Best Animated Feature, beating out likely candidate “Frozen II.”

“Parasite” was one of the biggest surprises from the list of nominations, receiving a total of six, among these being Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. The South Korean film is considered by many critics and viewers as one of the absolute best of 2019, deftly blending several tones while conveying powerful themes of class division. Some did lament, however, that it was not nominated for any acting awards. According to Lauren Huff from Entertainment Weekly, Song Kang-ho was the member of the cast to most likely receive an acting nomination.

In fact, it was a recurring theme in this year’s Oscar nominations to find a startling lack of diverse performers. Often in the past, the argument was made that films or minority actors simply were not good enough to warrant a nomination. 

But this year, more so than ever, we are seeing a surplus of incredible performances that are coming from great films directed not just by minorities, but by women as well. Awkwafina lead the incredible film “The Farewell,” Lupita Nyong’o shined in her dual performance in “Us” and Greta Gerwig once again displayed her incredible talents directing “Little Women.” While Cynthia Erivo certainly deserved the nomination for her performance in “Harriet,” the Academy’s unnerving ignorance of certain performers and films nevertheless feels all the more concerning for how routine this process is.

One might argue that the Oscars have faded in relevance in recent times, but being nominated still leads to significant bumps in the box office. According to Deadline, “Jojo Rabbit” (also nominated for Best Picture) sales received an 18 percent increase following the Monday nominee announcement. “Parasite” also rose by 26 percent, and “1917” soared by a staggering 192 percent. The Academy Awards matter quite significantly to the film industry, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

This is why it is so controversial that the Academy so often ignores diverse films and their performers. The Oscars are considered the highest award a film can receive, and their consistent dismissal of great minority films and performances appears to be the result of an intentional refusal to consider them, rather than a lack of diverse talent.

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