Perhaps as a result of the pandemic or maybe as a result of a larger issue of the place film has in the modern age, the Oscars was not a hit this year with the general public. Ratings were lower than ever and everything felt, to say the least, “off.” In an age where we are constantly being overwhelmed by information and messages, it seems as though the power that film once had to impact and change society has maybe faded away. With all the awfulness that is constantly overwhelming our world it seems as though we have just begun to stop listening. This year’s Oscars, the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony, saw wins like Chloé Zhao taking hold of the Oscar for Best Director (of “Nomandland”), and her film winning Best Picture, Youn Yuh-Jung winning for Best Supporting Actress in “Minari” and Daniel Kaluuya getting a well deserved win as Best Supporting Actor for his powerful acting in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Despite being revolutionary with diverse wins compared to previous years, the ceremony still didn’t seem to resonate with most people.
Although it was groundbreaking to see women and men of color take hold of previously white male-dominated categories, I worry that much of it is performative. Despite Chadwick Boseman’s impeccable acting in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and all that he had brought to Hollywood, he got little respect and tribute besides being the last slide on Angela Bassett’s tone-deaf presentation of Hollywood’s “In Memoriam.” It seems as though Hollywood has begun to celebrate diversity only to the extent that it benefits the industry and makes them appear in a good light. When it comes to genuinely recognizing someone after they are already gone, Hollywood fell short.
Overall, the common chatter I’ve heard in film classes and among peers seems to be that the Oscars were a disappointment this year, but I think the issue is so much more than Zendaya’s yellow highlighter dress or the lack of aesthetics in the venue. At the beginning of the ceremony Regina King exclaimed, “I have to be honest, if things had gone differently this past week in Minneapolis, I may have traded in my heels for marching boots. Now, I know that a lot of you people at home want to reach for your remote when you feel like Hollywood is preaching to you. But as a mother of a Black son, I know the fear that so many live with, and no amount of fame or fortune changes.” However, it seems as though people at home did in fact reach for their remotes as the Oscars hit a low with only 9.85 million viewers. With the pandemic this past year many individuals, including myself, have spent less time watching recent films because many theaters haven’t been open. Without the traditional movie watching experience of sitting down in a theater and enjoying a movie, the value film has held in past years seems to have diminished.
In many regards, the films of 2020 failed to capture the energy of their year. I would argue that what our world needs more than ever is a real revolution rather than a two-hour-and-10-minute reminder of one that happened 1969 like the one represented to viewers in “The Trial of the Chicago Seven.” This past year, whether it was a result of the pandemic or the overwhelming amount of injustice that was all around us, the films of 2020 did not meaningfully represent the tribulations of our time. Beyond the screen, there was also a great deal of action, with the Black Lives Matter protests being some of the largest movements in the history of the country, but many are disappointed by the lack of significant change. The Oscars seem insignificant in comparison to this revolutionary fervor. The real power of the event came from the stories of the nominees themselves. Many of the winners and nominees commented about how they had worked their way up from telemarketing and janitorial positions to get to the stage they were on, and throughout, the ceremony seemed to celebrate the American Dream. Many winners exclaimed that they could have never pictured their positions on the stage as a remote possibility.
The core of the ceremony came when Tyler Perry was presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. In his speech, he presented examples of real action and was an example of what the world needed, and would be more likely to actually be able to receive. He exclaimed, “In this time with … social media and algorithms and everything that wants us to think a certain way—the 24-hour news cycle— … I want to take this … award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle, no matter what’s around the walls, stand in the middle because that’s where healing happens. That’s where conversation happens. That’s where change happens.” We need to stand up from our couches and stop scrolling through the media to the point that we become exhausted and actually fight for change. The Chauvin trial was a step in the right direction, but we still have a great way to go. Films that make it into the Oscars often exist to encourage action, but if we’ve reached a point where we are tired of listening, we need to reassess ourselves and take to the streets to create change “in the middle.”