The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.
If there is one thing that makes January somewhat more bearable, it’s that Oscar nominations are finally out. And if you happen to be an Academy Awards fanatic like me, you’re probably also struggling to find time in your hectic, midterm-filled schedule to watch all of the nominated films in time.
With every coming year, however, it seems like the Oscars are becoming less of a conventional award show and more of a political platform for influential individuals in the movie industry to share their ideals. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for prominent artists using their spotlight to challenge the faults of our society (as it seems like there are more evils to address now than ever before). From race to the environment to feminism, the Oscars have seen it all. Yet, using screen time to shine a light on these issues also undermines the purpose of the awards show in the first place: to commend those who have done exceptional work within the film industry.
This is where one of the main controversies arises. The Oscars are supposed to recognize everyone who has succeeded in the movie industry, and yet the Academy has often neglected to include a diverse array of nominees, raising questions about race and gender bias that have not gone unheard. In 2015, #OscarsSoWhite became a viral hashtag on Twitter that condemned the Academy for not nominating any African Americans, even though there was no shortage of talent.
A year later, in 2016, the hashtag made a comeback when for the second year in a row, the lack of diversity in the pool of nominees prompted a great deal of backlash, and rightfully so, as movies like Creed and Straight Outta Compton, which featured accomplished African American actors, received prizes from other awards shows, such as the Guild Awards, but barely made it onto the Oscars list. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith even boycotted the event to show support for the black community.
And this is only one of the many movements that started at the Oscars. In 2016, Leonardo DiCaprio finally took home a golden statue after many years of being nominated and leaving the event empty-handed. What made his win special, however, was that his speech went beyond thanking his colleagues. DiCaprio used his limited time on stage to talk about an issue that mattered to him: the environment. He demanded action on global warming from the audience.
The “Time’s Up” movement, which took center stage at the Golden Globes earlier this year, made apparent that the Oscars are not the only award show to have evolved into a platform for political expression. Influential actresses such as Meryl Streep and Emma Watson took Time’s Up to heart after both the #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein scandal occurred in 2017, proactively campaigning against sexual harassment and assault. Several actors and actresses stood in solidarity with the movement, dressing in black to show their support. Oprah Winfrey’s speech in particular stood out as a major call to arms against sexual misconduct.
At the 2018 Grammy Awards, many artists wore white roses to show continuous support for the Time’s Up movement. Selected artists, including Kendrick Lamar, U2, Kesha and Camila Cabello spoke to some of the issues aforementioned. Some acknowledged a political concern that has come to light during Trump’s administration: immigration reform. Cabello defended the dreamers while U2 ended their performance with the politically charged message: “Blessed are the shithole countries.”
Amid the recently announced Oscar nominations, it seems like the Academy has made an attempt to answer to the controversy that it has prompted in past years. Despite the Golden Globes featuring no female directors within the nominees for best director, the Oscars made sure to include Greta Gerwig, the director of the film Lady Bird, among the nominees. To take matters even further, the Academy also recognized an African American nominee, Jordan Peele, for Get Out and a Latino nominee, Guillermo del Toro, for The Shape of Water, thus managing to nominate directors that represent not one, but three marginalized communities within the film industry.
With the Oscar season right around the corner and an array of movements gaining momentum since the beginning of the Trump era, the Oscars are sure to follow along the footsteps of other award shows this year that have advanced political messages. And while it is very valuable that important messages are getting across, it also seems like these movements are somewhat overshadowing the artists that have put a great amount of effort into their work. Awards shows are meant to praise and applaud those who have exceeded in their field. Yet many viewers are now more concerned with what political ideals get across during the show instead of focusing on the impressive work that was put together by talented artists.
Thus, the impending Oscars still raise the question: Have the Academy Awards become too much of a political platform to properly acclaim the true protagonists of the show, the nominees?