the minds of many are turning to contemplate what this year’s Academy Awards have in store. With the Oscars undeniably in their flop era, expectations may be low—but should that be the case? Could this be the year the Academy pulls their fingers out of their ears and gives us a ceremony to remember?
First of all, I think it’s important to have a quick recap of the Oscars’ recent escapades. St Andrews is full of critical thinkers, who are certainly aware that Academy Awards haven’t been doing all too well over the past several years. The 2021 ceremony garnered an audience of just over nine million—the lowest figures ever recorded for the awards show. This was a massive plunge from the 23.6 million who tuned in for the 2020 Oscars, and an even further cry from the 1998 Oscars which welcomed an astonishing 55.2 million viewers. Flop era, indeed.
This recent decline in viewership figures can be attributed to many factors: oversaturation of the awards show market (Emmy’s, Grammy’s, MTV Music Video Awards), younger generations being less inclined to sit and watch a four-hour broadcast (with ad breaks!), wider availability of other forms of media like YouTube and TikTok, etc.
One of the reasons viewership has fallen, though, can be traced back to #OscarsSoWhite. If you don’t remember, this hashtag was a call-to-action created following the 2015 Oscars, after the Academy awarded all 20 acting nominations to white actors. The hashtag was the catalyst for a campaign to call out theAcademy Awards for their lack of diversity within the awards show, and persisted through the rest of the 2010s, with many viewers boycotting the ceremony as a result. And it is a real problem that tokenism is not the solution too. In 2015, when #OscarsSoWhite first hit social media, 92% of the Academy’s membership was white. This bias undoubtedly impacted the films that were nominated, and the nominees that won. This lack of diversity is indicative of a wider structural issue to be fixed. But the Oscars have failed in this regard, with their white Academy membership still remaining high at 84% circa 2020 These figures are obviously not proportional to the US population, and are evidently the reason as to why films created by and starring people of colour continue to be snubbed. So long as the Academy remains so white (and largely male), many deserving films will go unawarded, with Oscar bait being favoured instead.
Directors and writers have figured out the formulaic means through which the voting panel selects their winners. As such, many Oscar bait films follow trends of dark, melodramatic features as opposed to creating something innovating and clever, as an attempt to get their hands on that shiny gold statuette. 2010’s The King’s Speech is a renowned example of Oscar bait; the royal biographical drama of a British period-piece, big-name actors, a protagonist with a disability he overcomes. All aspects designed for Academy voters to lap up gleefully.
Being Oscar bait doesn’t inherently make a movie bad—but it does risk cheapening the award. Heterogeneity is what makes the Academy Awards so interesting, and if every film is manufactured to be a dark, brooding period piece following the same cookie-cutter plot and genre, it’s no wonder television audiences are turning the awards ceremony off.
A slightly more light-hearted facet of the Oscars’ recent fall from grace is the mishaps during the live televised ceremonies. Who could possibly forget the Moonlight / La La Land Best Picture mix-up at the 2017 Academy Awards? Ryan Gosling trying to hide his laughter as it was embarrassingly revealed that, no, the wrong film had been read out. Probably the most interesting thing to happen at an Academy Awards ceremony in at least a decade, and it was a total accident. Sacre bleu.
But perhaps we’re being too cynical. They’d call the whole televised ceremony event off if it was really so irredeemable, right? The big guys at the Academy obviously have big plans to make the world fall in love with the Oscars again if they haven’t yet decided that their four- hour broadcast could just be an email. With this year ’s nominee list having been released last month, and the ceremony taking place in Los Angeles at the end of March, we’re really in the trenches of Oscar season at the moment. So whether you’re planning a late-night ceremony watch party, or you’re ambivalent and just here for a meme or two, I hope you enjoy Oscars night when it greets us. And fear not; exorbitant red carpet displays of wealth from this year ’s nominees are just around the corner.