Academy Awards: Meritocratic or Politically Hijacked?

The Academy Awards are the pinnacle of achievement in Hollywood’s annual awards season…or are they? I’m inclined to believe the winners of 2020 were largely deserving of their respective accolades, especially Parasite. However, I am equally inclined to believe this is not the case every year. ‘Woke’ culture is taking over. Now before you dismiss me as a narrow-minded member of the Alt-right (which I am not), let me explain. It is important to be forward-thinking and oppose bigotry and discrimination where it is genuinely found. There are some aspects of this ‘woke’ culture that I do, in fact, agree with. Nonetheless, the awards season has become something of a bore. What is deemed to be ‘high culture’ by some is, in the eyes of many, negligible. In theory, it is meant to be an occasion to celebrate the merits of various performers and filmmakers, as opposed to going onstage and whining about the ‘injustice’ of drinking milk, as Joaquin Phoenix did this year. I happen to like Phoenix and think he did a great job in Joker, but his diet and political positions on animal rights, let alone anything, are of no interest to me. If he were running for some kind of political office, then I might be more receptive. I’m sure he’s a great guy, but the Oscars are supposed to be about celebrating filmmaking, not talking politics. In most cases throughout the years, the awards have been about celebrating real accomplishments. However, after following the Academy Awards in particular for a number of years, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that, each year, the awards ceremonies have become an opportunity for an elite class of celebrities to congregate in a frenzy of self-congratulation and political point-scoring. Part of the problem is with the Academy itself, which votes for the winners.

In 2017, the prevailing ‘woke’ culture dictated that not enough was being done in the arts to represent people of colour. Representation of people of colour has, of course, been an issue. This is not something I deny. The culture also dictated that not enough was being done in the arts to represent people who belong to the LGBT community. As someone who is both gay and aware of the fact that the arts, let alone Hollywood, welcomes many LGBT people into the industry, the notion that the community wasn’t being represented seemed comical to me. Numerous films depicting LGBT issues (Milk, Brokeback Mountain and Carol – and these are just mainstream examples, all Oscar-nominated, two of which won) have been produced and even film festivals devoted exclusively to LGBT film are in existence. Notwithstanding my puzzled self, the Academy voted for a film called Moonlight, the plot centring around a young African-American man, who happens to be gay. It scooped up award after award, including Best Picture. Having not been to see the film prior to the ceremony (and no, I was not the only one), I went to see it a few days later. It wasn’t a bad film. There was nothing majorly wrong with it as a film, as far as I was aware. But it didn’t seem remarkable either, certainly not Oscar-worthy. To me, it was simply not deserving of all the hype the Academy had attached to it. And the so-called error that was made in giving the award for Best Picture to La La Land before realising they’d made a ‘mistake’ with the envelope seemed pretty staged to me. Call me cynical, but when does an error like that just suddenly occur at the Academy Awards when they'd been doing this with almost no organisational hiccups for nearly a century? Perhaps I was just a philistine, missing the point of this beacon of culture. Or was I? It seemed as though there was something else going on.

Earlier I professed a belief that the Oscars have become an elitist phenomenon which is highly politicised. Here, lies the problem. I think the Academy voted for Moonlight based on its political credit, rather than its merits. Surely, if the Academy Awards celebrates the best of the film industry, the merits of a film should be more persuasive than the politics of a film. I think there was a time where this was the case, at least to some extent. Alas, that time has passed. Many films seem to come to the attention of the Academy based on what the message of the film is, as well as what the identities represented in the film are. To me, this is plain wrong. Meritocracy is a dirty word nowadays. People question who we are to say that person X is more deserving of an award than person Y, who may have also done a really good job. Granted, it does boil down to a degree of subjectivity when making the final decision, but it is surely better to strive to reward the best work, rather than reward art for scoring political brownie points.

Hollywood is not just about entertainment anymore. If you work in Hollywood and you’re not abiding by the dictates of the elite, an elite that loves to stand up on a stage, praise diversity and denounce injustice, before retreating to their gated mansions in the Hollywood Hills or boarding their private jets back to the East Coast, it seems that you should either yield to the prevailing politics in Hollywood if you want to keep your job, or it may be time to find another industry.

Image courtesy of Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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