I don’t care about the Academy Awards.
Phew. I’m glad I got that off my chest. When I was a film student, it felt like blasphemy to even think those words. The Oscars are supposed to represent every film-makers dreams and aspirations. You know you’ve made it when you win an Oscar. Apparently.
Each year, I find myself less and less familiar with the nominated films – especially those for Best Picture. Maybe it is my lack of cinema funds, maybe it is sheer ignorance on my behalf or maybe it’s because I have a subscription to Netflix and I feel that I need to watch everything on there to get my monthly direct debits worth. It is also because, as someone who reads film theory for a hobby, I have developed a snobbish attitude towards popular films. Like many of my friends and peers, I regard most popular ‘blockbusters’ as simply entertainment, and dismiss that there can be any political, intelligent or artistic message behind the gushy romance, explosions or generic characters.
Clearly this is not always the case, and what is even more clear is that it would be incredibly short sighted of me to abandon popular Western films just because they made a lot of money and made a lot of people happy. ‘Silence of the Lambs’ (Jonathan Demme, 1991), ‘The Hurt Locker’ (Kathryn Bigalow, 2009) and ‘12 Years A Slave’ (Steve McQueen, 2013) are three films which not only critique our ideas about race, gender and society but also feature directors and protagonists which are atypical of the Academy Award ‘scene’.
On the other hand, Oscar nominated films are overall less diverse in their cast, crew, director and narratives. This year (and we are in 2015 people) all of those nominated for Best Actor/Actress are all white. Those nominated for Best Director are all white men (with the exception of Alejandro G. Iñárritu who is Mexican). Of the 8 films nominated for Best Picture, 7 of these have narratives almost solely focused on a white male protagonist. Apparently, it’s already been dubbed ‘the whitest year’ and has already spawned a hashtag #OscarsSoWhite .
It is far from my intention to state that a film has no further merit than simple entertainment if it tells the story of a white straight man, but it certainly feels like the award nominated circle of films are often lacking in diversity. Films such as ‘Under The Skin’ (Jonathan Glazer, 2014) which has received critical acclaim for both it’s unique narrative, it’s docu-drama setting and of course Scarlett Johansson’s very real and haunting portrayal of ‘the other’, a characterisation that is so often attributed to women and often incredibly one dimensional. Likewise, where was the nomination for ‘Get on Up’ (Tate Taylor, 2014)? Surely it should have got at least a mention, even if only in terms of the soundtrack?
My mission, if I choose to accept it, will be to watch all of the Best Picture nominations before the film-makers, cast and technical genius’s fly from all over the world to one location and beat each other senseless to win that coveted prize. Wait, no I’m confusing it with The Hunger Games again. But in all seriousness, I feel that an analysis of the merits of the Academy Awards in an age where film-making is accessible to almost everyone would be incredibly fruitless if I had not watched the films themselves.
So watch I shall…
(maybe I’ve just got the hump because The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated…)