Academy Awards: Meritocratic or Politically Hijacked? — A Rebuttal

Special thanks to Julia Jarzyna for her artwork seen in the cover image.

As some of you will be aware, I wrote an article some time ago about the Academy Awards earlier this year. At that point in time, I was quite angry with the world. I felt that the world was full of hypocrites who talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. Whilst there are definitely hypocrites out there, I have reconsidered my thoughts on the Academy and the film industry, an industry that I care about very deeply.

Ever since Marlon Brando rejected his Oscar for The Godfather in 1973, the Academy Awards have been an opportunity to not only celebrate the talent of the film industry, but also to represent some of the key issues that exist in our world today. Yes, it may seem a bit rich for multi-millionaire movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio to stand up and lecture us on climate change, but think of it this way: what have they got to lose?

If one has a position of influence such as these people have, why not use it? Surely this is more admirable than a self-congratulatory speech peppered with various thanks for the people who got them there. I still think it’s important to be thankful, but in this moment which, for most actors, is a once in a lifetime experience, why not use it to shed light on something pertinent to the wider world? And as for actors who constantly pick up awards (how many Oscars does Meryl have now?), there is even more of an opportunity to say something that can make people think about what can be done to make this world better.

I laid into Joaquin Phoenix in the article a little too. I have nothing but reverence for the guy, but I am not a vegan. Even so, I can understand his principles and respect the merits of his position. Whilst it doesn’t compel me to become vegan, some people will have done as a result of that speech. And we are all more aware of the process of milk production (milk is something I no longer drink). This was clearly an issue close to his heart and he used the much-deserved Joker win to enlighten people of this issue.

Art is often, if not always, political. It could even be said that the self-professed political apathy in the work of some filmmakers is indicative of a position in itself. Great filmmaking can be very appealing for its aesthetics, but its ideas can also be profoundly moving and force us to transform the way we view the world. Have the Academy Awards become more political? Absolutely. Is that a good thing? Without question. Hollywood has joined the conversation and given a platform to ideas and perspectives that would have otherwise been stifled. The more voices there are, the better. Hollywood is another appendage of democracy, and that special tenet of democracy known as freedom of speech. We must not lose sight of that.

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