And the Oscar for a Search for Popularity Goes To… : The Academy in Retrospect
Award season is upon us, and it's nearly time to hear the famous words "And the Oscar goes to…”. The 91st Academy Awards will take place on the 24th February at 8 pm (25th February 1 am UK time) in the golden Oscars’ home in the Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles. But before we start celebrating this year’s cinematographic wonders, it is necessary to look back at the certainly bumpy journey filled with several attempts to popularise the 2019’s ceremony.
The opening of this series of questionable decisions was marked by the announcement from the Academy in August 2018, which documented the initiation of the new award category “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”. The problem is that this category is degrading the films not nominated in it (even if they are nominated in another one). It also calls into question the definition of popularity, and how one measures it. Is it box office intakes? If so, this would firstly switch the focus of cinematographic work to financial gain, and secondly reward ‘popular’ movies twice – with money and an award. And even with keeping the old categories next to the new one, the other ones run the risk to become irrelevant and de-valued, since they are not ‘popular’.
In December 2018 the run of controversial decisions continued, as the Academy announced Kevin Hart as the 91st Academy Award host, only for him to withdraw a couple of days later, due to a vast outcry caused by homophobic tweets unearthed from Harts’ past. The news has already discussed this incident in detail, but one has also to mention the reason behind the original idea to hire Hart as a host. Frankly, Hart was not the public figure that suited the advertised job the best, but instead represented one of the most popular comedians in the US - and thus seemed to promise more popularity for the hosted event itself.
Further, this February the Academy announced a change in the broadcasting structure, namely the movement of the four categories “Best Cinematography”, “Film Editing”, “Live Action Short”, as well as “Makeup and Hairstyling” from being broadcasted live to being presented during the commercial break. The aim behind this change was to shorten the length of the show from four hours to three. Admittedly this is a noble aim since the poor live audience is, stuck in the Dolby Theatre for nearly 6-7 hours (one remembers Chrissy Teigen iconic nap during 2017’s awards) and thus Hollywood's finest surely appreciate the shortening. But moving these four categories, from which two, namely Cinematography and Editing, contain the most important and distinct features of the film medium, would again mean a devaluation of the movies and the work, a depreciation of cinematographic attributes, solely for popularity.
Of course, change is not always bad. In fact, change is in many areas of our society strongly needed. But change for the pure sake of popularity is, and never will be, the right route to take. Especially not, if one must neglect their origins and aims, in the case of the Academy to advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures, to recognise excellence in cinematic achievements and to help connect the world through the universal medium of motion picture. Admittedly we all lose our path sometimes, but luckily there are still people out there who lead us back, as the directors, actors, producers etc. have led the Academy back. And with this said, let’s raise our glass and cheer for all fantastic people in the arts, whether nominated or not!