The Rocky Road to the Oscars

To say that the road to the Oscars has been rocky this year would be an understatement. This season brings the usual criticisms. Six of the eight films nominated for Best Picture are historical dramas, and while not technically one, “A Star is Born” has been remade enough times to give it an honorary status. At the very least, the film represents a particular kind of ‘Oscar Bait’ that we’ve come to know and tolerate.

In addition, #OscarsSoWhite is back this year with only 25% of the Best Actor/Actress and Supporting Actor/Actress nominees being people of color. While these issues have come to be expected, they represent the usual seasonal damage that every road suffers. This year, however, brings with it two giant potholes that will likely not be resolved by the time the awards air and will lead to continuous damage for the Academy.

The first of these potholes is the issue of Kevin Hart. Back in November, The Academy announced that the comedian would be the host of this year’s awards. That was before it was revealed that Hart had posted a series of explicitly homophobic tweets, and used his own fears about his son being gay as the basis for a comedy routine back in 2010.

This sparked a now typical pattern in Hollywood where revelations are made about a celebrity’s past, and then the public debates over whether or not to forgive them. While the Academy rescinded their invention to Hart on Dec. 7, the debate raged long after, going so far as for Ellen Degeneres to defend him when he was featured on her show last month. However, this was immediately after a visibly exhausted Hart said that he never wanted to comment on the incident again. The debate is likely to continue but it did lead to serious PR damage, and the awards show had to continue on without a host.

The second pothole is far more drastic and reveals the true character of the Academy Awards. In late Jan., the Academy announced that it was planning on broadcasting live performances of all five nominees for best original song. This was a bump up from only performing “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” and “Shallow” from “A Star is Born” which was seen as being unfair to the other three nominees. However, to account for the extra time, four categories were removed from the broadcast and are to be awarded during the commercial breaks. These categories are Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling.

The removal of the first two categories drew particular and near immediate criticism from filmmakers. Guillermo del Toro, director of last year’s Best Picture Winner, “The Shape of Water” put it best when he tweeted that: “Cinematography & Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical or literary tradition: they are cinema itself.” Alfonso Cuaron, Oscar-winning director of the ‘nominated-for-nearly-everything’ Roma even went so far as to call for a boycott of the show. As of Feb. 14, the Academy has revoked this decision, but the episode still reveals the true nature of the Academy Awards and its intentions.

It is no secret that the Academy Awards are not about giving awards to the best films of the year. It is about celebrity worship. Film is a highly collaborative art, and so, in theory, the categories could be presented in any order. The order of presentation then shows where the awards place prestige. While the Oscars do reserve Best Picture for the final presented category, giving it the highest prestige, it is the categories that accompany it that are worthy of scrutiny. The Academy Awards place the highest prestige in the acting categories, and in so doing they feed into the already problematic Hollywood attitude of treating films as only being as good as their leads.

The fact that the Academy considered removing categories essential to filmcraft for the sake of adding musical performances (and by extension making it more marketable) demonstrates their lack of respect for filmmakers. Perhaps this is too unkind. The Academy Awards are themselves a piece of Television and are fighting for views.  Whether they like it or not, the Oscars represent most people’s gateway into the world of film. As such, we must continue to hold them accountable, both with the films they nominate and those who they choose to celebrate. It is a difficult place to navigate. There is, however, a point where we must ask if we can do better and if there may be a better road to take.