George C. Scott famously chose not to accept the Academy Award he was given for his performance in the 1970 film, “Patton.” He justified his decision by saying, “The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it.” More than forty-five years have passed since Scott made this remark, but filmmakers, critics, and laypeople still treat the Oscars ceremony with a seriousness that it does not deserve. The question, “Which movie of the year was the best?” is treated like the question, “Do you support President Donald Trump?” Most films are not overtly political, so filmmaking award shows should not be attended by arguments about important political issues.
When the list of nominees for the 92nd Academy Awards was released in January, employees of news websites all over the world began their annual round of churning out incendiary, hyperpolitical hot takes. The central target of staff writers’ ire was Todd Phillips’s “Joker,” which racked up eleven Oscars nominations. According to one writer at Salon, many of the people who like Phillips’s film are “fans of President Donald Trump and/or the alt-right.” According to a writer who works for Buzzfeed, “Joker” loudly “posits that women – black women particularly – are holding white men back.” There are plenty of ways to legitimately criticize “Joker,” but there is no way a racist, misogynist, pro-Trump film could ever get eleven Academy Awards nominations. These are baseless critiques meant to decrease the likelihood that “Joker” wins any big awards, as if such things matter.
Those who were irked by the Academy’s love for “Joker” argued that there were other, better films released this year that did not get nominated for Oscars. A reporter for BBC, for example, wrote that “Hustlers” is “an inestimably more intelligent inquiry into class divisions than ‘Joker.’” This claim may very well be true, but taste in film is subjective. “Joker” has received enormous attention from the Academy because the people who vote on which films get nominated liked it. “The Lighthouse” is my favorite film from 2019, but it received only a nomination for Best Cinematography. Beloved, classic films like “M,” “The Shining,” and “The Searchers” received no Academy Awards nominations at all. The Oscars ceremony is a popularity contest, and popularity is not always a guarantee of quality.
Even as a mere popularity contest, the Oscars are heavily politicized because everything is heavily politicized nowadays. To the writers at The Huffington Post, Salon, BBC and Slate, “Joker” is not just a bad or mediocre movie. It is “a dangerous manifesto that could inspire incels to commit acts of violence.” A film, to many thinkpiece authors, is less of a film and more of a receptacle for all of one’s political beliefs. Hence, articles about the 2020 Oscars generally come across as strained or hypocritical attempts to shoehorn political hot takes into contexts where they do not belong. The same Salon writer who asked his readers whether “Joker” fans would shoot up theaters wrote an article in 2018 in which he criticized President Trump for saying that video game violence caused mass shootings. The Buzzfeed writer I referred to above criticized “Joker” for being a “story we’ve heard a thousand times before,” but she also wished “Joker” did not take away a potential Oscar nomination for the 18th cinematic adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” Internet journalists fall over themselves for every opportunity to saddle a topical issue with tons of political baggage.
The Academy Awards ceremony is a show run by people in the film industry for the people in the film industry. Independent, provocative, great films are sometimes neglected in favor of more popular movies. Just because Greta Gerwig or Jennifer Lopez got snubbed does not mean that the people who made or voted for “Joker” are Trump-loving, gun-toting, bloodthirsty incels. Undoubtedly, film can be political, and filmmaking can be the subject of earnest political debate. However, one must always be wary of those who use films and awards shows not to discuss art but to malign those who do not vote for their preferred political candidates.
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Alex Klein is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.