“Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2? Can’t wait to see it!”
I rolled my eyes, unimpressed. Yet another host crossed the line. Just as I began to ask myself why I even bother watching the Oscars anymore, Will Smith began striding towards Chris Rock. Then that happened. I was momentarily stunned, but the feeling quickly passed when I remembered that the Oscars aren’t nearly as high-brow as they pretend to be. I moved on. But when I later scrolled through Twitter, I realized that the world wouldn’t do the same. What I couldn’t understand was why.
Several celebrities, including Jim Carrey, shared their opinions on Will Smith’s behavior: “Hollywood is just spineless en masse, and it really felt like this is a really clear indication that we aren’t the cool club anymore.” But Hollywood lost that title years ago.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to the popularization of the internet and the growing accessibility of celebrity culture, award shows shifted from selecting thoughtful hosts to more comedic, borderline cynical ones. It worked at first, but now it’s become almost strategic for the Academy to self-deprecate its award show. This year, hosts joked about being unable to sit through “The Power of the Dog” (2021), dismissed the validity of animation as an entire medium and claimed that no one sat through Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” (2021). Of course, I understand that the running joke is “Ha-ha, we don’t care about these incredibly rich and successful people,” but isn’t the whole point of the Oscars to honor film and filmmaking? It’s time the Academy stopped pretending it doesn’t like movies for the sake of being “cool” and began appreciating artists who are passionate about what they do and authentic with their craft.
And by appreciate, I mean allowing all aspects of filmmaking to be honored with awards during the televised show. To combat declining viewership, the Academy decided to pre-record eight award categories, heavily edit the footage, and intersperse those moments throughout the televised ceremony. One of the cut categories was film editing, and the American Cinema Editors Board of Directors released a statement in response to this decision: “It sends a message that some creative disciplines are more vital than others. […] We hope that film editors and other artists affected by this change will be honored and celebrated with the passion, dignity and inclusion they deserve.” If the Academy wants an uptick in viewership, they should consider listening to and respecting the creators who make the ceremony what it is. If they’re so pinched for time, maybe cut the “comedic” and musical performances (that weren’t even nominated) and give that time to the recipients of all the awards.
About two weeks post-slap, the Board of Governors decided to ban Will Smith from the Academy for 10 years. Compare this quick turnaround to the years it took the Academy to expel Harvey Weinstein for sexually assaulting dozens of women. Forbes put together a timeline of Weinstein’s 81 Oscar wins while sexual assault allegations were circulating. Allegations had been following Weinstein for literal decades, but it took the New York Times and the New Yorker to publish exposés with “substantial” evidence, not the countless credible and grossly similar allegations, for the Academy to respond. Seth McFarlane hosted the Oscars in 2013 and openly called Weinstein out for his behavior, just for Weinstein to win three awards on the same night.
The Academy is also notorious for nominating and rewarding white, cisgender, heterosexual actors, actresses and directors and snubbing films that undoubtedly deserve awards. The Academy is overwhelmingly white and male, which subjects all nominations to this one-sided perspective and renders the ceremony fundamentally biased. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began circulating in 2015 when no minority actors were nominated, and very little has changed since then. The opposition claims there just aren’t enough diverse films to nominate, but “Just Mercy” (2019), “Get Out” (2017), “Selma” (2014), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1995), “Straight Outta Compton” (2015) and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) didn’t receive any Oscars. Icons like Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, Ava DuVernay, Cicely Tyson, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones and Angela Bassett are also Oscar-less. The problem isn’t “the lack of diverse films or filmmakers out there”; the problem is the lack of recognition and appreciation for high art made by non-white creators.
That said, I invite movie-lovers everywhere to ditch the Oscars once and for all and support films in all mediums from all over the world. I’m sure receiving recognition from the Academy feels great, but it shouldn’t serve as the pinnacle of validation. There are so many other awards shows with significantly fewer controversies that I encourage people to check out. If the Academy won’t honor the real cool kids, let’s show them who they are.