Culture Movies

Why The Oscars Matter (And Why They Shouldn’t)

This happens every year.  The Oscar nominations come out, and they (usually) let us down.

Why do the Oscars matter?  They do, or we wouldn’t get so offended when they fail to represent the films we love.   Here are six reasons America can’t shake these Oscar blues:

NUMBER ONE:  The Best Picture winner literally gets set in stone.  Each winner gets engraved on a marble slab in front of the Dolby Theater, visited by over 10 million people a year.  So that’s a big deal.

NUMBER TWO:  They’re old.  The Academy is the longest- running institution for awarding achievement in film.  They were founded in 1929 and this year marks the 91st ceremony.

NUMBER THREE:  They’re last.  Filmmaking awards are now too numerous to count, but the Oscars traditionally end awards season.  The Critic’s Choice Association, Screen Actor’s Guild, and Hollywood Foreign Press all come before and inform the Oscars. Oscars have the “final say” on the year’s best films.

NUMBER FOUR:  They have an international reputation.  No name hits quite like Oscar, probably because of the legacy that comes with being around for almost a century.  And even though the Academy has done us dirty for the last decade, it takes a long time to discredit an established organization like the Oscars.  The new museum they’re building right in the most touristy part of Los Angeles will bolster its reputation, and that’s part of what makes snubs so hurtful:  meaningful films get excluded from an international brand and lose years of residual publicity and acclaim.

NUMBER FIVE: Films indicted into the Oscar family have almost unlimited institutional press.  This gets perpetuated every time someone working in film gets called “Oscar winner “.  Movies with the Oscar blessing get to print that blessing on their media forever.  All this perpetuates the Legend of Oscar.  Oscar isn’t just an award:  it’s a marketing tactic.

Oscar isn’t just an award:  it’s a marketing tactic.

NUMBER SIX:  They make money.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes $161.9 million a year, mostly from advertising revenue during the telecast.  A nomination or win boosts a film’s revenue in ticket, streaming or DVD sales by an average of 33%.  Wins also create bargaining power.  Natalie Portman, Halle Berry and Charlize Theron became Hollywood’s highest- paid actresses after their Oscar wins.  Oscars pretend prestige, but they ultimately service capitalism.

As written about in detail everywhere, the roughly 6,0000 person Academy represents an exclusive club.  They basically represent everything tired about the patriarchy.  Despite recent efforts to diversify, the white male narrative has dominated culture for hundreds of years and it’s not going to stop all at once.  And here’s the real offense:  most Oscar voters don’t even watch all the nominated films. 

Modern moviegoers have other ways to praise films.  To me, a cult following means more than a little gold statuette, because it means a bunch of people really love your movie.

Do we really want to be stuck praising the same Western male fantasies in perpetuity?   I’m calling for other ways to elevate groundbreaking films.  SEE THEM.  Talk about them.  Give them a life beyond their release year.  And don’t watch the Oscars.

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