The Fall of the Academy Awards

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So, the Oscars happened this Sunday and I hardly know anyone who watched it. If you didn’t know that the ceremony happened last Sunday, I don’t blame you. According to Nielsen ratings, the Academy Awards ceremony stood at a "low rating” of 26 million views in 2018. Today, 26 million views would be considered a resurgence compared to the attention they now get, with 2021 giving them an all-time low of 9.85 million viewers, 2022 only giving them around 15 million viewers, and this year reaching a peak of around 18 million viewers.

Suffice to say, the Oscars are not what they used to be, and the attention and buzz that they generated are of a bygone era. Households have, perhaps, realized that there are better things to spend a precious evening on than to watch multi-millionaires pat each other on the back and hand each other golden statues with their names on them. That is not to downplay the prestigious nature of the institution. The Academy Awards are still one of the highest honors any filmmaker can hope to achieve, and they recognize the amount of work and skill required to make a spectacular motion picture. More power to that. We should, however, acknowledge how strange it is that such a powerful institution has fallen by the wayside in recent years.

Now, it is possible to find an assortment of reasons that people have stopped watching and/or caring for the Academy Awards in recent years. One of the most common issues pertaining to this topic is recent years having filmmakers and actors consistently stumble across their own politics on the way to accept their awards.

For example, in 2020, Joaquin Phoenix won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck in “Joker” (2019). Phoenix, upon accepting his award began to speak about animal rights, climate change, and systemic racism, and although garnering much applause in the room, many people considered it inappropriate as the film did not deal with any of the issues which he spoke upon and came off as off-topic for an award show. The very next year, Chloe Zhao, a Chinese filmmaker, won Best Director for “Nomadland” (2020). Ms. Zhao has a history of using her platform to speak against the Chinese Communist Party for their strict censorship of information and human rights violations. Her acceptance speech was heavily restricted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Politics, by definition, cause ripples in audiences, causing some to tune out, some to tune in, and ultimately divides what is supposed to be a celebration of art in favor of a personal agenda.

But politics are neither here nor there to the point of why the Oscars are a rather trivial way to celebrate art. The idea of pitting films and their crews against one another to attain an award is remarkably unusual. In any sport or game, to beat an opponent means to best them while adhering to a set of rules. There is an objective that is not left up to interpretation, and there is no argument after the match on who won the game. Were it left up to interpretation, there would be no point to the idea of a winner in the first place. The issue with using a competition to determine the 'best art' is that it will never succeed; art is not, nor should it be, competitive.

This year “Everything, Everywhere, All At Once” won big, taking home seven awards out of the eleven categories it was nominated for, including Best Picture. But just because it won any of these awards doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with the Academy’s decision. Seemingly every year, an assortment of people get riled up in the belief that another film should have won a certain award instead of another. This is because the films are not designed to be “winners” of categories such as Best Picture. Nobody should ever be able to debate whether an athlete — or worse yet, a politician — should have won a match or race. At the end of the day, in sports and politics there is an objective means of determining a winner and a loser. With the Academy Awards however, no game is played, but a winner is still decided and that, in essence, is slightly ridiculous.