Every year, the Academy goes out of their way to try to make the show appeal to more people. Obviously, I have feelings about the telecast—I remain available to host, Academy—but what I’ve come to realize is that they just come across as not liking movies very much. This is probably one of my strangest takes, but I do have a defense for it. It’s all textual evidence, too, based on what the telecast and the actual pattern of winners has been over the years.
Of course, the most obvious data point is that the Academy was not created by people who loved the media of film. It was created by studio owners trying, unsuccessfully, to prevent the various people actually working in the business from unionizing. However, I would say that this isn’t necessarily a relevant data point today. Sure, there are some executive types in the Academy—Kathleen Kennedy comes to mind—but in general, the membership these days comes from other segments. You’d hope that actors and directors and things would have more love for the art of film than the PR people, on average.
And I don’t know, maybe it’s the people who plan out the telecast who don’t love movies. Oh, they talk about loving movies. A lot. But the show doesn’t really tell you why you should love movies. They’ll tell you that people you’ve heard of love movies. They’ll tell you that movies have been part of our culture for over a century now. But they won’t just talk about actual love of movies. They won’t talk the art. You get a vague “they make you feel things,” but that’s about the extent.
People complain about the length of the broadcast, but I think that, if they really committed to being a celebration of movies as an art and as a craft, that would matter less. People can sit in place to watch hours of things they enjoy; Netflix is basically crafting their whole brand around that these days. We don’t need a montage—much as I love a good montage—of clips we’ve seen a hundred times talking to us about how movies can create drama. It takes more than Marlon Brando yelling in a courtyard to really demonstrate that.
Now, part of the issue is that Academy voters skew away from movie audiences. They are old, white, and male, overwhelmingly. And don’t get me wrong; a few of my favourite Academy members are not young, and they are also white men. (Tom Hanks is an Academy member, folks.) The Academy’s working on fixing that, but it’s going to take time. And don’t get me wrong; I’m sure there are no few individual Academy members who love film. But when you get to organization size, the love just isn’t expressed.
Maybe part of the problem is that the members are too busy working to really get out and enjoy watching movies the way they used to. These days, none of us are; I have to admit cringing a little any time a friend mentions actually going to a theatre these days. And that’s even though my youngest finally gets to get vaccinated this week; a lot of my friends are vaccinated and have gotten sick anyway. But that doesn’t excuse the absolute awareness that the voters don’t even have to see all the nominees in most categories and obviously don’t.
Even as the membership changes, their biases don’t. Genre movies are incredibly popular, obviously, but it seems to me that, in aggregate, the Academy is too concerned about movies as Great Art and promoting film that way to really get into the idea that movies are fun. Even if you’re watching a depressing movie, you mostly aren’t watching it because you feel obligated to. You’re watching it because you want to, because it brings you to a place where you want to be. It feels as though the Academy believes that a movie you want to see can’t possibly be Great Art.
Look, there are a lot of really fun movies that are also Great Art. There are also plenty of ways to explain to people what’s enjoyable about the movies that aren’t necessarily a lot of fun. Get Spielberg or one of the other directors people have heard of to host a montage of shots from other movies that have influenced their own work. Do an “Odessa Steps” montage—shockingly, you could get the terrible One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing in there. And also Oscar-winning picture The Untouchables. It’s everywhere, and getting people to appreciate that might go over well.
Basically, I think the Academy shouldn’t be afraid to geek out. And it feels, based on what the show looks like and what the nominees and winners look like, as though they just can’t. I know they’re trying to increase viewership because the advertising revenue from the telecast funds things like film restoration. And that’s Important. Honestly, the Academy does a lot of really good work. It just doesn’t always feel as though they know why it’s important.
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