Another year, another chilly January day spent complaining about Oscar nominations. Yes, the Oscars are so white – but even more so, broadly speaking, this year’s choices are restrained, safe, and kind of boring.
What I’m wondering is why we’re even bothering to be angry. You’re wasting all that good outrage. Get back online and find a useful outlet for it. Because it is just not worth getting angry about the Academy any more.
We all know what an Oscar-winning English-language film looks like. We know the performances that get nominated, the common themes, the style of cinematography. We know the politics of it. It’s an annual tradition, a game to see who can guess all of the winners, and who will wear the best dress, and how terrible the host(s) will be.
This is because it has been going for eighty-eight years. Can you imagine it? It’s older than my grandmother. It predates the Second World War, and plenty of other wars besides it. It has honoured many incredible artists and films that are still as beloved today.
But the film industry has changed completely since my granny’s day. Filmmaking used to be so expensive that it was the preserve of the big studios, and all that pomp and ceremony would reflect that. Lush, well-funded films would win, as they do today, because they would have been the most professionally made.
Now, the industry is far more democratic. Cheaper and more readily accessible equipment, advice and support have allowed more and more people to capture a video that ever before – just think about how many videos you’ve taken on your phone, and the different platforms you have to share them. Online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have allowed lesser-known filmmakers to exhibit their work, with ever-growing audiences for independent films. Beasts of No Nation, one of my favourite films of 2015, was the first feature film produced by a streaming service. Sean Baker’s excellent Tangerine was not even captured on a camera – it was shot entirely on two iPhone 5Ss. In short, our idea of what even constitutes a “film” isn’t even the same as it was five or ten years ago, let alone the business behind it.
It’s bizarre that the Oscars haven’t adapted to these changes, and instead consistently adhere to the same patterns year on year. Yes, non-white actors may get nominations, or even awards – provided they are nobly tolerating something dreadful (e.g. slavery – thanks for helping me work through white liberal guilt, guys!), rather than driving a film forward. Last year’s Best Picture nominations were all about white men shouting, this year, they’re fighting against injustice/financial collapse/bears.
Both of the films mentioned above have received strong support for Oscar nominations, and there has been considerable grumbling that they were “snubbed”, as everyone insists on saying about great films not nominated for an Academy Award. In my opinion, this would be the least appropriate way to recognise the achievements of the cast and crew behind these two films. Raw, exciting, experimental filmmaking doesn’t get an Oscar, nor do marginalised voices or controversial storylines. If you want to see these films win prizes, go to Berlinale, or Sundance, or any of the independent film festivals.
We should stop believing in the silly, outdated idea that Oscars go to the best films of the year. They go to big, expensive films with well-known casts and certain established conventions. So don’t expect to see your favourite, queer indie number on that list, nor expect Idris Elba or Kitana Kiki Rodriquez’s names to get read out at that podium – but they’re all the better for it.
Ed: my granny, for the record, has always loved Alfred Hitchcock and thoroughly enjoyed Pulp Fiction. Just so you know. She’s great.