I watch the Academy Awards every year and I complain about the Academy Awards every year. Like clockwork, I anticipate the list of nominations in January, knowing I’ll be disappointed to see the same problematic patterns and obvious snubs that led to backlashes like #OscarsSoWhite in 2015, a movement against lack of diversity that still remains painfully relevant half a decade later. Whether my participation in this cycle is a fruitless attempt to recapture the ignorant admiration I felt for the Academy Awards when I was young, or whether it just stems from a naive love of celebrating movies, it is a hypocritical and nonsensical feat. In 2020, I will not be watching the Oscars, and here’s why.
In 1929, Louis B. Mayer developed the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in order to discourage unionization throughout Hollywood. Mayer, the founder of MGM media company, achieved this by marketing “The Academy” as its own private and powerful organization, and established the awards ceremony as a means to legitimize his efforts. In his biography, Mayer was quoted saying, “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them. […] If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.” It’s a shameless and transparent admission, asserting the Oscars’ creation as an affront to the working class and exertion of control by an underhanded representative of the Hollywood elite. Not much has changed in the past century.
As of this year, the Academy consists of over 7,000 members deemed worthy to advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures. Their duties include selecting candidates for a variety of awards at the Oscars ceremony, widely ranging from Best Picture to Sound Editing to Costume Design to Writing. Over the years, their choices have received an equally wide range of disapproval, most notably at the 2016 Academy Awards when every nominee in the acting categories were white… for the second year in a row. Four years later finds the Academy nominating only one woman of color, Cynthia Erivo for “Harriet,” in what feels like a blatant refusal to recognize the talent of non-white actors and actresses, and a twisted representation of racism in Hollywood and our larger society.
Following this trend, many performances by people of color went unrecognized in 2020. Although “Parasite” received a nomination for Best Picture and Best Director, phenomenal actors including Park So-dam, Kang-Ho Song and Choi Woo-shik were not lauded. Furthermore, the ensemble of “The Farewell,” Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers” and Lupita Nyong’o in “Us” were entirely ignored, as were the films themselves. In 92 years, it is an embarrassing and shameful statistic (among many) for the Academy that there has only been one black nominee who has won Best Actress: Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” in 2001.
While the Oscars neglect to honor people of color, the ceremony does not hesitate to celebrate abusers. Tarana J. Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement against sexual violence, was in the room when Kobe Bryant, accused of sexual assault in 2003, was awarded Best Animated Short in 2018. In 2019, Rami Malek won Best Actor for his role in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a movie directed by Bryan Singer, who has been accused by multiple men of sexual assault over the past two decades. Last year, “Green Book,” a film about Don Shirley and his white chauffeur set in the 1960s, won Best Picture despite being heavily disputed by Shirley’s living family. Advertised as the black musician’s story, the movie instead focused on a white man’s character arc and salvation, thereby employing many controversial narrative tropes and making it yet another thoughtless, problematic choice for an award.
Meanwhile, there have only been five women nominated for Best Director in 92 years. Adding to this, 2020 saw the snub of Greta Gerwig (whose film “Little Women” received a nomination for Best Picture), Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”), Lorene Scafaria (“Hustlers”), Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy”) and Marielle Heller (“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”), all of whom merited the recognition more than Todd Phillips (director of “Joker,” which regrettably received 11 total nominations this year).
Despite receiving well-deserved criticism for its erasure and lack of inclusivity, it is difficult to believe that substantial change for the Oscars is imminent, or even possible. Last week, Stephen King—a member of the Academy—tweeted, “I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality, it seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong,” sparking a slew of responses wondering why diversity and quality cannot go hand in hand. On the other hand, also on Twitter, Women In Media have started promoting #AltOscarParty to boycott this year’s Academy Awards in a similar move to #OscarsSoWhite. Instead of tuning into the ceremony, they will be watching films made by women on Feb. 9. I plan on joining them.