Let me take you back to February 2019. The nominations and winners of the 91st Academy Awards were just fresh out of the envelope. Here are some opinions you have probably come across: “Why is Black Panther nominated? How is it Best Picture-worthy?” “Who cares about the Oscars? It’s just a popularity contest.” “Why do I recognise no more than five of the nominated films?”
Indeed, filmmaking is a subjective art and everyone perceives art in different ways. Besides, movie awards have always been controversial. When a film is awarded Best Picture, to whom is it the best? Is it America? The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences? What really makes an Oscar-winning film ‘the best of the year’?
A Voice for and by Humanity
Of all the prestigious Hollywood awards recognising the arts — such as the Grammys and Emmys — the Oscars are the only award with a standing human figure statuette. I particularly adore its simplicity and elegance: muscular, chest high, firm posture, hands holding a crusader sword. It reminds me of a knight who would stand up for honour and defend the silenced against oppression, discrimination and injustice. That is precisely what filmmaking should be: a representation of and for humanity.
The President of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, stated ‘the movies the Oscars celebrate are about seeking out new ways to see the world.’
Then again, the Oscars are infamous for nominating and awarding obscure, non-commercial films with moderate box office success that are barely screened in theatres outside of America and completely abstain from the inclusion of any guns, light sabers and iron suits. Why is that? If the objective is to ‘seek out a new perspective’, how are filmmakers able to show us an angle from which moviegoers do not usually get the opportunity to observe from, if we were to expect them to employ traditional, mainstream devices of entertainment?
21-time Academy Award nominee and 3-time winner Meryl Streep once said, ‘I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you.’ In this way, actors transform into characters. Writers record their words. Directors create their worlds. If the Oscars were to celebrate movies about guns and lasers that rake in $2 billion just because everyone likes them, then they would be celebrating those dollars instead.
If you ask me, the box office has rewarded dragons and robots enough. It’s almost a duty of the Oscars to remind us what makes us human-beings after all.
Inclusion, Diversity and Equality
There are too many legends and stories in our world with too few voices to speak for them. The 91st Academy Awards alone has recognised an eclectic mix of films with themes of social, cultural and political importance such as racial equality (Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk), mental illness and alcoholism (A Star Is Born), gender equality and feminism (The Wife, The Favourite), political oppression (Vice, BlacKkKlansman), and the celebration of legends (Bohemian Rhapsody).
A film is a commentary on society and humanity. If the audience leaves the theatre not having taken away a message, then what is the point of it? When a panel of industry professionals are bestowed with the onus to select a limited few to represent ‘the best’ of the year, it is vital that they not only ensure the nominated films are a depiction of humanity, but also a representation of all kinds of human beings. And that includes giving the misunderstood, discriminated and underrepresented a voice to tell their stories.
Empathy through Cinematic Excellence
You’ve heard the saying, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ What about a motion picture, then? Movies are one of the strongest mediums to put the audience into someone else’s shoes, although, of course, not every movie is able to achieve that noble goal. Only the good ones are. The Oscars currently award 24 categories every year, recognising not just the Best Director, Actor and Actress but also technical achievements such as cinematography, screenwriting, score, production design, makeup, hairstyling and so forth. Every single technical field of a movie contributes to the noble cause of empathy, for they act as a bridge between you and the story, showing you exactly what you see, how you see it, what you hear and shouldn’t hear, all in the name of helping you empathise with the characters, with others.
And for that, the Oscars should honour not just the men and women in front but also those behind the cameras.
So, are the Oscars perfect?
If you’ve been to Los Angeles before during any Oscar season, you’ll have noticed the ‘For Your Consideration’ billboards of movie contenders as part of their ‘Oscar campaign’. The purpose of them is to remind or convince the voters that their films are ‘important’ and therefore worthy of a golden statue.
The Oscars, run by human beings whose intrinsic nature is incapable of absolute partiality, is political. Even amongst the panel of industry pundits themselves, art is subjective and not one panel can agree on one absolute Best Picture. Each year, voters struggle on the verge as to which film or actor they should cast their vote for. Moreover, with more or less fifty films that are nominated every year, which voter really watches every single film? That’s when rich studios come into play with their expensive attention-grabbing FYC campaigns.
It’s going to take time for the Oscars to become less political and more meritocratic, but at least for now the Oscars is a decent golden man whom we could put our trust in.
Written by Isaac Tan
Cover photo credits: Getty Images Entertainment