Academy Awards Has New Look When No One Looking
• Awards show struggles in times of media and social diversity.
The 93rd Academy Awards did not look like anything anyone has seen before. Not only were the nominated films shown less - because their digital releases were spread across a multitude of streaming platforms - but because the ceremony itself was shaped in a dramatically different way.
The uniqueness of the nominees - none of the best picture films were big-budget films - was refreshing, giving smaller, independent films a chance to shine.
Additionally, there was an increase in diversity and inclusivity in the nominees for the various categories. For the first time, two female directors were in the running for the Best Director Category.
Going in, people’s expectations were high, and though everyone knew this year’s ceremony would look different due to the unique circumstances of times, the nominees created a hopeful outlook on the ceremony itself.
Despite high hopes of more inclusivity, there was still skepticism that the Academy would stray away from their predominantly white male winners for good. There is a quote from Reuben Cannon, the first Black casting director for a major studio, that sums up this concern of progress not being continued long enough for any substantial change to be made.
Cannon expressed how “we should not mistake a moment for a movement,” in reference to Halle Berry’s historical win as the first woman of color to win Best Actress back in 2002.
His concern, among many others, was that her win would be an anomaly, and though this was a step in the right direction, it was feared that this progress was not permanent.
Now, 19 years later, Berry is still the only woman of color who has won this award, proving Cannon right--this was simply just a moment, not a movement. This was felt during Chloé Zhao’s historic win as only the second woman, and first woman of color, to win Best Director for her film “Nomadland,” which also took home Best Picture.
Before Zhao, the only woman to have won this award was Kathryn Bigelow, who won for her direction of “The Hurt Locker” back in 2010.
Considering the increasing number of women in the director’s chair, this mere number of two winners and seven women ever nominated for this category by the Academy is disheartening.
On a more hopeful note, this is the first year two women were in the running for this award, as Emerald Fennell was also nominated for her film “Promising Young Woman”. Though Fennell did not win Best Director, she did win the category of Best Original Screenplay, making her the first woman to win this since 2008, when Diablo Cody received the award for “Juno.”
In addition, there were monumental moments regarding people of color in other categories as well. Yuh Jung Youn won Best Supporting Actress for role in “Minari”, becoming the first Korean to win an Oscar in Academy Awards history.
In the category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson became the first Black women to win this award for the movie “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”. Considering there have been 93 years of the Oscars, it is concerning that all of these firsts are being made so late in the game, but it is still incredible that these amazing women are making history and hopefully setting a precedent for the future.
With all of these monumental moments from the night, one would expect the overall takeaway from this year’s ceremony would have been positive. However, due to a series of missteps, people were dissatisfied with various aspects of the night. Most notably, the tradition of closing the night with the announcement of Best Picture was broken, as the Academy moved Best Actor award to take the spot of the final award announced.
It was assumed that this switch was to honor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away last year and was nominated for this category for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”.
Throughout the ceremony, it was hinted that the show would end with a huge, heartwarming closer of Boseman’s win, and the Academy went as far as to invite his family to the event. As the Best Actor envelope was opened and the audience leaned forward in anticipation, Joaquin Phoenix announced this year’s winner--Anthony Hopkins.
Hopkins was not even present to accept this award, and because the producers of this year’s show did not allow winners to call in via Zoom, Phoenix ended with the statement, “The Academy congratulates Hopkins and accepts the Oscar on his behalf. Thank you.”
This abrupt end was painful for viewers, who were left confused and feeling misled that the night would end with Boseman’s widow accepting his award on his behalf and honoring his life and legacy the proper way.
Hopkins was incredible in his film, “The Father”, and there is no question about whether he deserved this win However the Academy’s handling of this situation, using Boseman as a marketing tactic to keep viewership up until the end, is quite disgusting.
This caused an immense backlash in the media, and, finally, the producer of this year’s ceremony, Steven Soderbergh, spoke to the L.A.Times about their reasoning for announcing Best Actor last.
He explained how “if there was even the sliver of a chance that [Boseman] would win and that his widow would speak, then [they] were operating under the fact that was the end of the show... it was not like we assumed it would [happen], but if there was even a possibility that it would happen… it would have been such a shattering moment.”
Soderbergh was correct in that this moment would have been the perfect way to end the ceremony, and of course they could not control who won, but their decision to take such a risk in moving the award to the end in the chance Boseman would win was one that did not pay off.
This decision backfired, and Boseman was not honored in the way he deserved to be after all he achieved in cinema throughout his life.
Hopkins later took to his social media to post the acceptance speech he was unable to give live, where he did acknowledge and pay tribute to Boseman. Hopkins’ performance was beautiful, and it is such a shame that the Academy took away from his win by using the Best Actor category as bait for people to watch the entirety of the ceremony.
Another noticeable change in the ceremony was the lack of comedic bits and footage from each of the films, replaced instead by biographies of the nominees.
Since these films were less well-known than in years past, it would have been beneficial to include clips of each movie to provide the audience with a deeper understanding. But, on the bright side, is due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions keeping movie theaters closed, it is fairly easy to view any of the nominated films on the various streaming platforms on which they were released.
Though the biographies were often long and caused a loss of engagement, they were touching, and it was quite lovely to hear about the nominees and understand their background better.
The Academy made some severe mistakes that should not go unnoticed, but it is also important to recognize the milestones achieved in a more diverse group of nominees and winners.
It is still unclear whether this progress will continue, but it is safe to be hopefully optimistic in the years to come. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a movement toward more inclusivity, both in regards to the Oscars and the film industry as a whole.