The Oscars have a phobia of horror, with only six Best Picture contenders ever having been loosely labelled ‘horror movies’. In the 92nd Academy Awards, the horror genre was left solely represented by one nomination: Best Cinematography for The Lighthouse (2019).
Why do the Academy Awards continuously ignore some of the finest contributions to cinema
However, the film demonstrated prestige in much more than cinematography, with impressive use of sound, screenwriting and two incredibly captivating performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. So why do the Academy Awards continuously ignore some of the finest contributions to cinema? The most obvious reason is that horror is considered ‘genre’ work. While both popular and profitable, it is disregarded in the critically acclaimed sense. Despite the genre having seen an evolution from B-movie roots to its newly elevated reputation, it remains overlooked outside of its technical prowess.
P)erhaps we can draw the eye away from the Oscars hegemony and allow truly great cinema, of any kind, to be critically celebrated
When it comes to favouritism from the Academy; period pieces, war epics and biopics are sure-fire contenders. All films which, funnily enough, centre white stories and white voices.
The Oscars are nothing short of problematic, and whilst they maintain their prestigious and superior reputation, it is crucial to consider their shortcomings and arbitrary nature. The most prominent issue is the pervasive lack of diversity. Black actors and filmmakers are continually disregarded. Despite their reputation as the global awarding body, they repeatedly ignore films from outside the western periphery. This is best articulated by Bong-Joon Ho, who in 2019 declared, ‘the Oscars are very local’.
Considering this, we become aware of how the awards function as a means of maintaining power and influence in the hands of old white men. When we acknowledge this through voter demographics, it is no wonder genre movies are unfavourable, because they come from a time when films of such nature were considered sleazy and immature.
Despite horrors reputation, those films which have pervaded are often not categorised within the horror genre. The sole Best Picture winner, The Silence of the Lambs (1999) doesn’t even qualify in the traditional sense, it’s more accurately described as a psychological crime thriller. Although, as we observe the evolution of the genre as it expands creatively, it is perhaps better to consider the range of genre defining characteristics horror movies can possess.
Attempts to rebrand and reshape horror will continue to be met with opposition as filmmakers
As we experience the so-called ‘ horror renaissance’, it is crucial to consider how horror has changed and that despite this evolution the Academy’s ignorance sustains. The likes of Black Swan (2010) paved the way for cutting-edge films considered ‘elevated horror’, which helped signal a new era of more socially-conscious scary movies. Whilst these types of films have been well received by both audiences and critics alike, filmmakers have grown tired of the notion of ‘elevated horror’. They claim that this critical resurgence and dynamic change in the genre has been triggered by the Academy and likeminded awarding bodies to alter the horror genre entirely. Sceptics state this change is abandoning and undermining the genre’s early icons of German expressionism, such as F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) and Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920), in favour of films with a more ‘packageable’ and American horror experience.
Best actress line-ups are continually dominated by performances that fit within pre-approved archetypes
By choosing to ignore genres with roots outside of America, or in-turn trying to alter and commodify them to fit Hollywood ideals, the Academy is solidifying its hamartia as its localist disposition. Attempts to rebrand and reshape horror will continue to be met with opposition as filmmakers challenge these creative confinements in order to create films that genuinely terrify us, without needing the Academy’s seal of approval.
There are also layers to the disregard of horror by the Academy. Some of the most captivating performances in the last decade have been by women in horror. Lupita Nyong’o in Us (2019), Florence Pugh in Midsommar (2019) and Toni Collette in Hereditary (2018) were all crucial to the success of their films, yet were completely disregarded by the Academy. Best actress line-ups are continually dominated by performances that fit within pre-approved archetypes. Reflecting the roles and the films we are used to seeing praised by Hollywood.
The horror renaissance we are currently bearing witness to is one of the most exceptional developments for women in film, providing roles with depth and integrity. At a time like this it is important to consider the draconian nature of the Oscars, and their hegemonic function. Perhaps the Oscars could steady their fluctuating ratings if its voters were more cognizant of their blind spots. Although, if we as an audience direct our attention towards other awarding bodies and exercise our societal autonomy, perhaps we can draw the eye away from the Oscars hegemony and allow truly great cinema, of any kind, to be critically celebrated.
In article images courtesy of theacademy via Instagram. No changes made to these images.
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