The Oscars come around every year and are greeted with the same uproar of curiosity and excitement. What will our favourite actors be wearing to walk the red carpet? Who will be nominated, and what will this year’s controversy be, if there is one?
Worldwide, we decide which actress we want to dote on and yet simultaneously criticise. And wonder why the male guests don’t just recycle the same suit over and over again? Would anyone really notice?
Yet the Oscars, or The Academy Awards, are not actually about celebrity culture and the world of haute couture. They are about film, apparently. But ratings are down on Oscar viewing, and respect for the awards and those who award is waning. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, "the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king," but the film awards themselves almost seem like an after-thought.
The Academy are not unaware of this. In the August of 2018, the Academy announced they would be opening a new category: Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. While this was met with some public enthusiasm, the reaction was mainly critical. Those within the film industry were unimpressed by what seemed to be on obvious attempt to pander to the public.
Complex, an online pop cultural magazine, criticised the change, stating that it sullied the very idea of an awards show, the purpose of which is to celebrate excellence, not popularity. After all, popularity is no signifier of quality.
The category was removed the following September. In November it was confirmed by Academy president John Bailey that the category had been created in direct reaction to decreasing viewership. Which begs the question, why does an awards show care about viewership? They are there to award excellent entertainment, not provide it.
The Popular Film category was a failed grasp at relevance from a tiring event. The biggest deadener of any product, show, or figure is its inability to stay relevant, and the world has stopped seeing the Academy as relevant.
Perhaps this is to do with their reluctance to modernise and enter a technologically obsessed world.
Televised viewership of the Oscars may be decreasing, but so is the viewership of television itself. Those tuning in for a day and night of celebrities and horrendously long thank-you speeches may be fewer in number, but those checking into Twitter every fifteen minutes for Oscar updates are not. Nor are those watching livestreams from Facebook or Instagram.
It is not only their understanding of current audiences that is letting the Academy down, but their unwillingness to move with the new ways the world is enjoying and interacting with film. The decreasing relevance of the cinema screen is one such factor.
Amongst the many rules that dictate what qualifies a film to be nominated for an Oscar is the stipulation that it must have had a seven-day consecutive run in a commercial theatre in Los Angeles County. Otherwise it is not a viable candidate.
This requirement was more than reasonable in 1929, when the first Academy Awards ceremony was held. How else were members of the Academy to see the film? It even made sense 15 years ago – made-for-TV movies have never been renowned for their high quality.
But we now live in a streaming culture, with most of our entertainment consumed online. Even television channels have their own catch-up websites. As streaming platforms have grown in popularity and use, they naturally have moved into content production. And they have not sacrificed on quality. Take Netflix’s current award-winning drama, The Crown, which following its first season received a slew of BAFTA and Emmy nods, attesting to its undeniably high calibre.
Netflix’s 2018 film Roma has received 10 Oscar nominations. However, had the streaming company not also chosen to play it in theatres around the world, it would have remained completely ignored.
This lends itself to the question of whether it is the responsibility of the production company to ensure that the film is within the Academy’s reach. Or does the Academy have an obligation to seek out excellent films that do not meet their strict criteria?
Is it time for the Academy to step up and modernise? To enter the present-day, internet-obsessed world? The public is certainly placing the onus on the Academy itself, and not the producers
But would the world care if they did, and should the world care? Perhaps it is not the fault of the Academy but the great celebrity culture surrounding it. At its core, the Oscars is just another industry awards ceremony, like the ones marketers, engineers, and now even journalists have. Should the public not just let it exist as such?
But even within its own industry the Academy is losing its credit, and to a new generation of film-makers winning an Oscar is no longer a goal to strive for.
Film student Olivia told 7DNews, “I feel that each year it gets worse, or maybe it’s because each year my eyes are opened to great cinema that the Oscars overlook and give no recognition to.”
“They haven’t recognised some great films of the year such as Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, and then they’ve nominated some films that are good, but not the best of the year - in my opinion anyway.”
“I guess the problem with these kinds of awards platforms is: who are they to decide?