Monday, January 13, 2020

Change of Venue

It's movie awards season, with the 92nd Academy Awards coming up in the beginning of February. And now that nominations have been released, there has been something of a teapot tempest over the lack of women nominated for Best Director. The director of Little Women, Amy Pascal, suggested that part of the reason may be that most (some 72%) of the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are men, and they are voting for the movie that appeal to them, personally. People are, she says, voting for the movies, the stories, that are important to them, rather than out of any deliberate bias. The BBC asks if the demographics of the people who give the awards has an impact on the stories they prefer, and thus the people who receive the awards.

All the movies nominated this year are good, and I can’t believe Bafta voters are inherently racist and misogynist, but the telling thing with lists is that they without doubt reflect the personality of the person or people compiling them.
Jason Solomons, Movie critic and journalist.
Georgie Yukiko Donovan notes that awards are something of a stamp of approval, one that allows moviemakers to move up the career ladder. But she also feels that the money needed to successfully campaign for an award means that "gender, race, money and class" are important factors. Critic Melissa Silverstein feels that the generally older White male perspective of the majority of awards judges invalidates the experiences of people outside of that demographic, and when all of the nominations for an award reflect that, then the award should not be given.

But maybe there's a better option. If the Academy Awards are too important to a filmmaker's career to be left to the whims of the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, then the Oscars should be replaced with an award that better reflects the population that's important to the film industry. While the Oscars, and other major awards, are important because the press pays attention to them, they're also important because filmmakers compete for them. The time, effort and money that go into campaigning for the Oscars are representative of the prestige that they bring, but they also contribute to that same prestige.

Since awards season concentrates on movies that have already been released, there is a certain amount of sway that a new award can have. I don't know anyone who goes to a movie and then declines to make up their mind as to whether or not they enjoyed it until they find out how many Oscar nominations it received. The public can have very vocal opinions as to what they like or dislike in cinema, and are more than capable to disputing the choices that awards bodies make. So why not look to an award that selects a slate of candidates that matches the demographics one prefers and compete for that award? Sure, it will take some time to shift the public's attention to the new award. But change always takes time. And I suspect that it would be simpler than either expecting Academy or BAFTA or what-have-you voters to leave their own likes and dislikes at the door, or making wholesale changes to their voting memberships.

It's true that Oscars mean a lot to people, and a new award won't mean as much. But that focus on this particular award creates a neediness that threatens to eventually undermine it. If people understand that there is some sort of diversity quota built into the awards, will they retain the faith that the movies selected have earned their positions on the merits, or come to believe because someone else has determined the winners in advance, they awards are somewhat fraudulent. And if the current awards electors are simply middlemen, why not dispense with them?

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