Are the Oscars still an awards show?


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Joon-ho celebrates with his Oscars after winning four Academy awards for the South Korean thriller film "Parasite."

Emma McCabe and Tala Trad

Diversity within different communities has been a hot topic debate for decades now. But recent “justice movements” like #MeToo, Time’s Up and Black Lives Matter have been shaping more and more frequent conversations about representation (or lack thereof) on screen and in media.

This often pushes awards season to become the natural stage for Hollywood elites to express their opinions and calls to action concerning these issues.

Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman presented at the 2018 Academy Awards during which she put her own subtle critique of the Academy by saying, “and here are the all-male nominees” for best director. This year, which yet again had no female nominees for best director, she made another statement by embroidering her cape with the names of female directors that were passed over despite being critically acclaimed.

The lack of host for the event gave a multitude of presenters an opportunity to voice their perspectives early on in the night. Steve Martin and Chris Rock, two iconic comedians within their own right, provided an excellent foil for the conversation. They immediately called out the lack of black nominees amongst their many comedic jabs.

The opening musical performance by Janelle Monae, who made a point to identify her race and sexuality during the performance, also highlighted many 2019 films that did not receive recognition from the Academy and if they had it would have diversified the lineup.

This is why the most exciting highlight of the night, which reflected a possible paradigm shift on the part of the Academy and Hollywood as a whole, came from a movie fairly unknown to American movie-goers: “Parasite.” Though internationally recognized by several award nights prior to the Oscars, the lack of mainstream recognition for foreign language films did not project much hope for the South Korean film.
Despite this, the film remained consistent because throughout every awards show it was nominated at by taking home several top prizes.

The Oscars proved no different, “Parasite” and it’s director, Bong Joon-ho, easily swept the floor; winning awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Picture and Best Director. In addition to Taika Waititi, a citizen of New Zealand’s indigenous peoples, winning Best Adapted Screenplay for “JoJo Rabbit,” these firsts gave hope to many international filmmakers in pursuit of the highest accolades in the industry.

Diversity wasn’t the only call to action highlighted by speakers throughout the night. The idea of second chances proved an interesting pushback to today’s toxic “cancel culture” (the idea that one mistake should be the end of somebody’s influence and popularity) in which forgiveness has been lost almost entirely.

During their speeches of acceptance, Director of Best Animated Short Feature “Hair Love” Matthew A. Cherry, and Best Actor for his role in “Joker,” Joaquin Phoenix, both acknowledged the opportunity to give individuals and humanity that second act.

Apart from the awards themselves, the performances were lackluster and felt like a gesture to pull in more views though obviously failed considering that this year’s ratings were at an all-time low. If the Oscars are struggling to stay relevant, maybe having Eminem perform “Lose Yourself” that won Best Original Song 17 years ago wasn’t the brightest idea. However, Hollywood veterans Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig’s bit as presenters was one of the most refreshing parts of the night.

Though there were a variety of unexpected winners, many deserving people in the industry took home awards for the night in what could be considered “happy upsets.”

Contact Tala Trad and/or Emma McCabe at [email protected].