“Hello and welcome to the 87th Academy Awards, Live from Los Angeles…”
(Translation: “Let’s party and celebrate Hollywood… in Hollywood!”)
On February 22nd, the 87th Academy Awards ceremony was held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles. No surprise here. Hollywood is the home of the entertainment industry, so where better to celebrate it? The first ceremony took place in 1929, only two years after the establishment of the Academy itself. But to whom exactly are we referring?
“First, I would like to thank the Academy…”
(Translation: “I would like to thank my peers and buddies!”)
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is a professional honorary organisation whose mission is to promote the image and the development of the film industry. It functions on a membership basis, one which is invitation only from the Board of Governors. Academy membership is divided into branches, representing the various jobs within the industry. Hence why there were only five branches in 1929 whereas today there is the considerably larger group of seventeen of which the actors’ remains the largest. Basically, award-winning actors thank those actors who voted for them.
“And the Oscar goes to…”
(Translation: “And the mirror goes to…”)
It is a fact: Hollywood loves itself. No wonder films about Hollywood are particularly successful at the Oscars. 2015 has been no exception. The Best Picture Winner Birdman tells the story of a washed-up actor who is struggling to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of his Broadway play. At the 2015 Independent Spirit Awards, Birdman (2014) star Michael Keaton wittily thanked “Narcissus” who “doesn’t get enough of a shout out”, before adding that the “mirror thing is just genius”. Birdman follows the long line of Best Picture Oscar winners that can be seen as a reflection of the industry or sometimes the Academy itself, from recent The Artist (2011) and Argo (2012) to Shakespeare in Love (1998) and All About Eve (1950).
“Oh my God, I honestly didn’t expect it…”
(Translation: “Well… statistically, I was the favourite, but still!”)
The Oscars ceremony itself is both very popular and fiercely criticised. One of the main critiques – which is particularly foregrounded in today’s increasingly multicultural society – is the fact that the stereotypically celebrated drama winner profile is always a white male.
The Los Angeles Times recently published that Oscar voters are ‘nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male’ while ‘Blacks are about 2 percent of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2 percent’. This highlights a current and distinct lack of representation among women and minority groups. Equally, there are criticisms regarding the award categories, with many critics highlighting the evident plea filmmakers make to achieve success and associations with Best Picture. This phenomenon is referred to as the ‘Oscar bait’: a bunch of good dramas released just before the Oscar season. However, this is not new.
Nowadays, dramas are in fashion, but different kinds of films were praised in the last century. If we take a look at the lists of nominees in previous years, it appears that the AMPAS tends to reward a certain type of film at a certain time, such as war-themed films in the early 1940’s or musicals in the early 60’s. Therefore, by favoring certain types of film over critically acclaimed ones that depict real life issues, the Academy is accused of being a poor representative of the audience’s honest opinion, caring only of their own and that of their peers in the industry.
Despite the self-important issue of value the Academy appropriates onto itself, the Oscars have earned a rightful place in history by being the oldest entertainment awards ceremony and becoming, according to film critic Andrew Sarris, “the most closely scrutinised and most widely watched entertainment event on global television”.