September 26, 2018 | ° F

SHAH: Academy Awards should fade away


Opinions Column: Wait, Was That Racist?


AnjaliShah

In 2018, the prestigious Academy Awards turns 90 years old. Why do we still consider an institution as ancient as the Oscars the truest measurement of a film’s artistic brilliance?  

As an age-old film institution, an Oscar has generally been the mark of a successful film or actor. But, the Academy Awards are also widely recognized as the bullhorn for a pretentious parade of film critics who have never been quick to celebrate diversity or films that are popularly enjoyed beyond just critical acclaim. Ninety years later, it is simply a microcosm for what is wrong with the film industry as a whole.

The #OscarsSoWhite movement sparked in 2016, when, for the second year in a row, all actors who had been nominated for lead and supporting roles were white. In a further dissection of the diversity of Oscar winners, in the 88 years before this hashtag, only 14 Black actors, five Latinx and three Asians have won. Statistically, that is a disturbing lack of diversity within the winning pool. 

It seems almost like pandering when the Oscars made history with the greatest amount of Black winners in its history in 2017, the very next year, giving the biggest award of the night to Black-led Moonlight.

It is less than fulfilling to see the Academy adjust its film preferences solely to address the height of identity politics. Sure, it is necessary to use movements like #OscarsSoWhite to highlight the lack of recognition for people of color (POC), but the Academy’s response seems to be more politically than genuinely motivated. It is almost as if the Academy is trying to politically subdue minorities — not actually empower them.

This year, the Oscars may be a little less white and a lot more revolutionary with Rachel Morrison’s nomination for best cinematography (becoming the first woman to be nominated in this category), "Get Out," a satirical horror film, for best picture nomination and many other nominations recognizing minorities, but Asians and Latinos remain painfully underrepresented during the awards season and simultaneously underserved in the film industry. Hong Chau was snubbed for her acclaimed performance in "Downsizing," and there were no Latinx Oscar-nomination contenders.

Even with the Academy’s attempt to reach out to minority audiences by nominating diverse and unique films, Hollywood as a macrocosm has not responded in a progressive fashion. According to a UCLA report on diversity, less than 7 percent of the directors of the top 200 films were women, and only 13.9 percent of films were led by POC. In a study done by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative by examining the 1,100 top-grossing films released in the past decade, of the 665 most popular directors, 31 were Black, 20 Asian, 24 Latinx, 43 women and only 7 women of color. Hollywood’s vision of a director is still a white man. Seventy percent of speaking roles in films belong to white actors, even though minority groups buy tickets at a higher percentage relative to white movie-goers. The premiere of "Black Panther" proves that box office responds to diversity. But, cultural moments like "Black Panther" are rare and have failed to completely revolutionize representation in films across the board like they should. We have the potential to make this a moment of sustainable change in Hollywood, but it is unclear that the Oscars can lead such a revolution. 

Watching an outdated film institution scrambling to catch up to current times to recognize talent outside of the mainstream is quite pathetic. Every year, some of the most talented and popular filmmakers and actors participate in gimmicky films with the sole vision of achieving recognition from the Academy. Just the fact that movies need to be catered specifically to win an award is telling that the award's show is not conducive to recognizing distinct and enjoyable talent. The Academy Awards is simply symbolic of an institution that has never given the time of day to films without big budgets and big names. 

The Academy Awards may be bearing the brunt of an issue endemic to the entire industry. The flagrant lack of diversity within the industry itself is perhaps more frightening than the films that are critically recognized. But the Academy Awards must symbolically fade in relevance to give way to the rebirth of Hollywood, eliminating the boundaries of Oscar bait and creating films with deeper and unique dimensions.

We can retire an ultimately useless award institution that has failed to reward the most popular movies and actors in the entertainment industry. To the POC in the film industry: instead of looking to gain acceptance by the Oscars and popular media, why not fundamentally restructure what it means to be successful in Hollywood? Why not judge critical success with a new institution that is committed to genuine progress and not political pandering? Until then, let us celebrate the progress we have made since then — they are baby steps, but hopefully, we are getting there. Perhaps 91st time is the charm? 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School first-year, double majoring in finance and political science. Her column, “Wait, Was That Racist?”, runs on alternate Fridays.

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Anjali Shah

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