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The Academy’s Awards’ Fall From Grace: How the Oscars Have Suffered a Decline in Quality

     The Oscars are a prestigious award show that celebrate the best moments in cinema for movies and actors every year. When “Oscar season” rolls around, the media is flooded with predictions and gossip. Movie critics debate about who should win Best Actor, while TV hosts talk about how good the show is going to be.

     Finally, the show airs on TV—and rather than watching it as it airs, most glance at the highlights on YouTube the next day and complain about how uneventful and predictable it was. Every Academy Awards ceremony that has been produced this decade has felt like that one brief relationship you have had when you were twelve. You think you are in love, then three days later you get bored and break it off. Neither you or the other kid ever think twice about it. Much like the Oscars, there’s so much hype surrounding the relationship, but it turns out not to have that much significance afterwards.

     The Oscars have been engraved into pop culture for decades, being the picture definition of glamour and relevance. When you hear the word “fame,” the first image that comes to mind is probably a red carpet, men and women in tuxedos and gowns flashing toothy smiles and giving speeches. Yet, many now consider the show irrelevant. Searching the word “Oscars” on Twitter will give you a glimpse of the jokes that people crack at actors’ expense.  This lack of respectability has greatly increased this year, with the awards drawing in the smallest audience since 2008 with only 32.9 million viewers. The Oscars have dropped in viewership by 4% from last year, according to Walt Disney Co.

     Nonetheless, why have people stopped watching the Academy Awards? Most say that the awards are actually one of the biggest problems with the show due to mainstream movies not receiving awards that often. In the past decades, at least half of the best picture nominations were in the top ten highest grossing films of the year. However, the amount of highly grossing nominees started dropping until 2005, when none of the nominees were in the top ten highest grossing films of that year. This started to enforce the idea that the Oscars to reflect the taste of the public. This is part of why the viewership has dropped so drastically. People watch award shows because they’re rooting for something or someone, which is why the highest viewed Oscar ceremony was in 1998, with 55.25 million viewers. That year, Titanic, the highest grossing film of the decade won Best Picture.  In 2004, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won Best Picture and the Academy enjoyed 43.5 million viewers (CNBC.com).

     It’s become painfully apparent that the Oscars love awarding a very specific type of movie. This is where the term ‘Oscar bait’ comes in, which is described as movies that try to get an Oscar by using a certain formula or set of redundant cliches. Is it longer than two hours? Is it about war? Is there a dramatic orchestral soundtrack? Is it set in Hollywood? If so, then there is a good chance that it’s Oscar bait. Online film critic Lindsay Ellis theorizes that this trend started in 1978 with the war movie Deer Hunter, in which Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken deal with marriage and fighting in Vietnam. Many claim the movie is incredibly hard to watch, and the studio knew it would be very hard to find an audience. But, movie critics loved it, so the studio decided to release it only in Los Angeles and New York, which would make it eligible for an award. It won five awards and was nationally released after the Oscars, and became a commercial success due to the awards hype.

     What needs to be realized about the Oscars is that they are largely considered marketing material. How many movie posters have you seen that read “Winner of Best Movie” on it? Everyone needs to pay the bills—even Hollywood executives. That means they need to get as many people to see their movies as they can. So, a lot of studios are willing to sacrifice quality in favor of having “Best Adapted Screenplay of the Year” in order to get more consumers to buy their film.

     Another problem with the Academy Awards is the profound lack of diversity. It isn’t like other award shows like The Emmys or Golden Globes where the awards are decided by critics or the press. They’re chosen by the Academy, a group of people within the film industry who vote on all the awards every year. Membership is lifelong and 91% of the members are white. 76% percent of the members are male (latimes.com).  It’s a group plagued with the same taste and same perspective making it hard for a lot of movies to win. Brokeback Mountain was robbed of an award with the infamously awful Crash winning instead. Of course, I would be remiss to leave out the lack of racial diversity in the film industry. All twenty actors nominated for an Oscar in 2015 were white, spawning the #OscarsSoWhite movement as well as the Oscars boycott. Many prominent people of color in the film industry criticized how only few diverse films managed to get any major success. Movies like Concussion, Creed and Straight Outta Compton didn’t get much recognition, if at all. Racial diversity has only recently gotten better with the recognition of Moonlight as Best Picture of 2016.

     Times are rapidly changing and The Academy Awards are struggling to keep up. The fact that they’re so set in their ways has held them back, and the recent fiasco involving Moonlight and La La Land, in which they had accidentally announced La La Land as best picture instead of Moonlight has stripped away whatever impression of prestige and seriousness they had. At this point, they will have to change the core of the awards, the Academy itself, by adding more new and different members if they wish to remain relevant.

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