Award Culture

Kicked off by the Emmy’s in September, the six months which constitute “Award season” bring in a  constant wave of viewing parties, betting pools, and the explosion of Twitter. From Oscars to Grammy’s, worth is dolled out in the entertainment industries by who wins which award and how many they get. The audience sees an actor or actress accepting a gold statue and either cheer because they earned it or yell because they didn’t. What viewers don’t see is how literal the word “earning” is in the process.

It’s “industry” knowledge that winning the award isn’t purely about the talent earning something but the voter getting something in return. In 2016, Jim Reed wrote an article for BBC News titled “How much does it cost to win an Oscar?” in which he details what is behind the process of winning an Oscar.  He states the amount spent on Oscar campaigns reaching nearly $100 million to $500 million a year. As he notes, bribery may be banned but there’s always a loophole. Allegedly campaigners will go as far as they need when it comes to “gifting” to get the vote, from books to jewelry. It’s not surprising how far people will go when the end game is a pay boost in the minor millions.

Simply looking at the glaring factors of a sweet, sweet gift bag for one little vote it’s hard to not look at the elephant taking up half the room labeled ‘BIAS’.

While there aren’t as blatant bribery issues in the Grammy award rumor mill, race and gender are still huge buzz words during award season. In an article for Slate written by Isabel Torrealba in 2018, reported that Tina Tchen was hired by the Recording Academy, started a new initiative, inviting 900 new members to bolster demographics of people of color, women, and those under the age of 40 to join the voting body. Before this initiative, each of these categories barely made up 20 percent of the voters.

There was a reason in 2016 the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended. The Oscar nominees aren’t the only division dominated by White actors and actresses. It’s academy practice to keep who voters under wraps, but in 2012 a demographic breakdown shed some not-so-surprising information on the demographics of voters. Written for the LA Times by John Horn, Nicole Sperling and Doug Smith, of the 6,000 voters it came down to voters being “94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male”. Of the reporter, the median age was found to be 62 with only 14 percent of the voters being under the age of 50. While the report is now, 7 years old it’s hard to imagine the numbers have changed significantly.

Award season is chockfull of unwritten rules. No matter which actor or artist I clap for or think should win acknowledgment, I can never stop thinking about how much every other artist nominated or ignored deserves just as much praise. The winner may deserve recognition, but the highest bidder to the voter knows they spent money to earn money.