Opinion - Boycott the Oscars? Sure! But not for why everyone else is...
Let’s be honest…when was the last time anyone paid any REAL attention to the Oscars? Well, someone must be…because every year there end up being countless headlines about it. Who wore this, who won that, who said this, who got snubbed…so on and so forth. This year’s ceremony is already making headlines in that folks are calling for a boycott due to the lack of diversity in the actors and actresses up for the top nods. Folks, we have way more reasons to boycott than that.
This being a nerd website, naturally I’m going to point at the continuing attitude the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has toward genre film. One might try to present the argument that the Academy is slowly thawing with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King winning best picture in 2003 and Heath Ledger getting his posthumous trophy for his 2008 turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight, but both of these wins could, and likely do, fall in the known sentimentalization bias the Academy is known to have; Peter Jackson winning for the toll filming the back to back to back epics took on him (seriously, get pictures of him pre-Lord of the Rings and post…dear god…he’s nearly unrecognizable!) and Heath Ledger went to such a dark place to portray his Joker that it KILLED him. And yes, you could make the argument that with Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian in the running for Best Picture that the Academy is at least ‘trying’…but seriously…do any of us really think either of those films has a chance?
All one has to do is take a look at this year’s Golden Globes…the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s awards that are often credited to herald ‘the shape of things to come’…so to speak. The Revenant took Best Picture (Drama), Best Actor (Drama) and Best Director. The Martian took Best Picture and Best Actor…for a Musical or Comedy.
Don’t re-read that, you’ll only make that snap you just heard in your brain much much worse. [Yeah, and we don’t have insurance to cover if anyone of our readership starts spewing blood out of their nose. – Ed.] Let’s instead retreat to the relative safety of the dictionary, where we find the following:
Musical – noun: Also called musical comedy, a play or motion picture in which the story line is interspersed with or developed by songs, dances and the like.
Unless there was something I missed…while there was the occasional 70s song, I’m thinking The Martian doesn’t meet this definition, so let’s move on to…
Comedy – noun: a play, movie, etc., of light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion.
That first part…nuh-uh. The Martian was not ‘light’. I mean, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as The Revenant seems to be and Matt Damon’s character had his share of quips…but no, I do not think of struggling to survive on Mars while NASA figures out how to come get you as ‘light’. To quote the wisdom of Black Dynamite, “That’s some heavy shit right there.” But I will confess, the second bit, yeah, that kinda hits it. Still, does that mean I’m going to be looking for The Martian in the Comedy section at Best Buy? Nope. It’s going to be under Action/Sci-Fi…because it’s goddamn Sci-Fi!
I point out the whole The Martian debacle to illustrate the situation that those who professionally review movies…well…they’re completely out of touch! [Good thing we’re amateurs! – Ed.] That’s not a new sentiment, mind you…but with the rise of websites in the vein of Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic that compile individual reviews into a consensus score, the awareness of this disparity has become much more increased. Hell, looking at Rotten Tomatoes as I write this, 5 of the ten top box office performers of the past week all merit the green splat of unfavorability, 4 are ‘certified fresh’ and 1 is just a regular tomato…but since the threshold between a splat and a tomato is 60% and since this film sits right at 60%...well…one more review in the negative could turn the tables, changing things to 6 splats and 4 tomatoes.
Now, I’m not arguing to force the Oscars to become the Vox Populi nor am I arguing for new categories such as Best Actor in Spandex and Best Beheading by a Machete (the weapon or Danny Trejo)…but when there’s an actual Wikipedia article titled Oscar Bait where the content biases of the Academy are highlighted…well, dammit, doesn’t that illustrate that there’s a problem? Look, at my day job, we keep stats on numerical biases in our models and issued products, you know, so that we can eventually strive to get those numbers down to ZERO. NO BIAS. Yeah, yeah, I’m a scientist and films are art…but come on! An investigation by the LA Times showed that of the Academy’s 6,000 members, 94% of them are white, 77% are male and only 14% are under 50…so old white guys.
Just to clarify that, 86% of the 6,000 members of the Academy (that’s 5,160 people) were born prior to 1966. Now, I don’t know about you, but shit’s kinda changed since then…hasn’t it? Much of what had been relegated to B-movie or worse status back then has grown-up and matured. Subject matter within comic books now appeal to a broad spectrum of ages. Technology in filmmaking has caught up to the imaginations of Science Fiction visionaries…taking the allegories and commentaries on our current society that have always been a touchstone of the genre away from the days of dudes in gorilla suits with deep sea diving helmets on their heads and into the breathtaking vistas of modern productions…allowing for even deeper explorations of heady themes. But to a person with a sensibility rooted in, at the very latest, the early 70s…comics are still relegated to children or those looking to ‘rot their brains’ and Sci-Fi is the cinematic equivalent of junk food. Again, while I’m not arguing the Oscars not become slavish to the whims of the box office, it DOES have to be taken into account. Look at the top 10 highest grossing films of all time and you’ll find three Science Fiction films (Avatar, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World), three comic book movies (Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Iron Man 3) and one fantasy film (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2). The remaining films are a historical drama (Titanic), an animated film (Frozen) and a racing/action film (Furious 7). Compare this distribution of genre to the types of films designated as Oscar Bait: war movies, historical epics or dramas and biographies. Doesn’t really line up, does it?
The answer, as always, lies in the middle. Academy, if one of your members has happened upon this particular corner of the seedy underbelly of the internet [Then God help them. - Ed.], c’mon…it’s time for some fresh blood. Although, yes, you can keep the criteria that if a member thinks Adam Sandler is a comedic genius, they are subject to exile and/or death. But there IS artistic merit to genre entertainment. There are bold, daring, stirring and thought-provoking tales being spun in the trappings of Science Fiction and comic book films. These films deserve recognition outside of the usual ‘technical’ awards that they’ve become dominant in. The dream is that in a year where The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road are up for Best Picture that one of them actually has a chance of grabbing the award. With the current composition of the Academy…that’s not gonna happen this year. Guaranteed. I just hope this change in sensibility and taste comes before I’m over 50…where I become the old white guy…and genre films have fallen from the spotlight they currently in habit in favor of…well…let’s be ironic and say war movies, historical dramas and biographies.
So, yeah, boycott the damn Oscars! Maybe they’re racist, maybe they’re not…but they ARE biased. And if you’re awarding Best anything to films yet have only seen small samplings from an even smaller sliver of what’s out there…well…anyone with even the slightest passing knowledge of statistics will tell you you’re a damned idiot and that the award is a completely empty and meaningless gesture.