Thursday, February 4, 2016

Oscar is Gold for a reason

The Oscars bore me. Most awards shows do, but the granddaddy of them all seems especially tedious. It’s been nearly a decade since I actively worked in "the industry" so that is part of it. This is heresy to the many friends who live and breathe Hollywood. Perhaps the five years living outside of Los Angeles is part of it as well. More likely my love affair with the little golden man lost its shine in 1992 when Silence of the Lambs beat my favorite Beauty and the Beast. It still doesn’t seem right. My grumble isn’t unique – every year there are a slew of people who are overlooked for awards.

In the past two years the ‘major’ categories (Picture, Acting, Directing, Writing) have only had white nominees. Therefore the Oscars are racist. Or so goes the thinking and social media rants. Missing from the conclusion is any analysis or understanding of the history or the process of the awards.

Nominations for the acting categories, for example, come from those in the acting part of the Academy. Designers don’t vote on acting awards just as actors don’t vote on sound editing awards. That allows the ‘experts’ in a particular discipline to reward those in their own field.

The SAG awards recognize acting talent and are run by the Guild. Only actors vote on these awards as well. In most likelihood the pool of people who nominate and award the winners at SAG are the same pool as for the Academy of Motion Pictures. Lo and behold the January 2016 SAG awards for the leading movie categories had only white actors in them. (Television categories had more diversity as did the supporting categories.)

The directing and writing categories all operate the same…those who are experts in those fields do the choosing. The nominations for the guild awards largely reflect those of the Oscars because it’s really a subset of the same group of people making the decision. Best Picture is where there is a difference – and the rules are designed for that.  Everybody in the academy can vote for that.

Films that compete for Best Picture do so with the same calibrated campaigns as those in the political realm. There are individuals, companies and experts who guide a film through the awards process. Special screenings, Q and A’s with the talent, interviews, advertisements in local publications, billboards – all are part and parcel of raising a film’s awareness for people to vote on it. The industry thrives on such things – and the Academy has some rules aimed at preventing people from ‘buying’ influence. It’s a losing battle.

Since Harvey Weinstein aggressively marketed “Shakespeare in Love” for awards the rules changed. Millions are spent. Why? Aside from the ‘prestige’ and ego of those involved – the average American sees one movie a year with frequent movie goers seeing eight a year. There are over 250 movies released each year so having an award helps. If it’s won an award then it must be good!

Bloomberg Business reported on a study by Randy Nelson that movies with Oscar nominations stayed in theatres longer and had a multiplier on their box office earnings. It’s about money – not about race. As a casual (but regular) reader of The Hollywood Reporter I can see which movies spend the money to promote themselves and their actors and which don't. It's not surprising that those films which do not promote themselves do not get the nominations. It perhaps shouldn't be that way - but it is.

The media exploded over the lack of color in the nominations. The AMPAS decided to change its rules. The Guardian reports on the Academy’s decision to change its rules: “Political correctness played no part in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s move to double the number of female and black and ethnic minority Oscars voters, say AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson.”

Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton jumped on board saying “it was overdue.”
The idea that white people won’t vote for people of color is in and of itself a racist concept. And it belies the history of the Academy which has awarded honors to people of color. Have the rewards been allocated direct proportion to the country's demographics? Have the awards been fair? No – but that's not what they exist for. They are about marketing.

Mark Reina, a member of the Academy wrote a letter to the AMPAS president that was published in The Hollywood Reporter. His question to her: “I am a gay man and my father is a Latino immigrant. Please explain to me how denying me my right to vote makes the Academy membership and the Oscar nominees more diverse?”

The change in the rules is political correctness run amok. Should more people of color be nominated? Absolutely. What’s the best way to do that? Don’t complain about #Ocascartoowhite – remember that Oscar’s gold and it’s always been about the #green.

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