Movie Ramble: To The Academy, With Love

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I’m just going to say something bold: The Oscars mean the world to me. Yeah, I know that sounds a bit cheesy and “intense” to you casual movie lovers out there, but it is the truth. This event is my Super Bowl, my Olympics, and in truth has and will always be what my year and life have centered around. This is the night where the “stars” shine, and the thing I love more than anything – the “motion pictures” – are celebrated.

But this year, I have to admit that it is a bit harder to get that rush of excitement I’ve always had for the Academy Awards telecast. Why? Because to me, it seems that the Academy themselves have lost touch with what made the Oscars, well, the Oscars.

It all started with a strange sort of announcement: the Academy said they would be initiating a new category called Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. It was an innocent enough idea – award the movies that usually would have been pushed to the side – since they weren’t considered as “prestige”. They wanted the typical “joe schmoe” to cheer on their favorite movie, so the ratings would sky rocket. But what did that new category really mean? Were the actual Best Picture nominees now lesser in importance? Obviously, the idea was tossed out as fast as it was suggested.

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Robe Lowe and “Snow White” – Academy Awards 1989

Then, there was the lack of a choosing a host for the ceremony. Yes, there was the whole Kevin Hart controversy, but why was finding a replacement such a chore? Were they afraid of any other baggage that came with a new choice? Had they forgotten what happened the last time the ceremony didn’t have a host – the infamous 1989 Academy Awards, in which “Snow White” led a cast of random faded stars, and Rob Lowe, in a bizarre medley of song and dance? Obviously, the younger members haven’t searched the archives of YouTube hard enough.

But truly the sign of something worrisome came in the form of the latest bit of controversy: In a last ditch effort to please the network executives and advertisers, the Academy was going to present certain key categories during the commercial break to shorten the telecast. These included (but were not limited to) Cinematography and Editing. Thankfully, with the help of important groups/individuals within the film industry (including The American Society of Cinematographers) expressing their disappointment towards the situation, the Academy retracted said plan.

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Now, I’m not saying the Oscars have been perfect. There are a certain group of individuals that still think the ceremony is a bunch of hogwash – a pretentious celebration of snobbery that isn’t accessible to the general public, and preaches the old Hollywood regime.  And listen, I get it – maybe films (a piece of art that is, as they all are, subjective) shouldn’t be separated by rewarding them based on a group’s personal taste and biases – along with awards campaign money, etc.

But then there are some of us who may have a little bit of a glimmer still in our hearts – who continue to return to the Oscars telecast time and time again, simply because of one reason: It started it all for us. 

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Me as a tiny human – minus Oscar in hand.

At a young age, I lived within a household that fed me on a healthy diet of cinema. From my mom’s love for intense dramas like Joy Luck Club and A Few Good Men, my dad’s fondness for John Wayne starring westerns and war films, to my grandparent’s love for classic musicals such as Gigi or Oklahoma! – movie became my comfort and my safe haven. They didn’t care if I had divorced parents, nor dismiss me for having strange shaped teeth and a birthmark on my right arm. They were my friends, my teachers, and my inspiration to continue moving forward in my life.

I shortly then was introduced to something special – Oscar night. At the stroke of 8 o’clock (Eastern Standard Time), my world for the next three hours began to change. Suddenly those weird things I loved, that I would talk about obsessively to kids at school, were actually given some respect. Those older movies my grandparents loved were presented more like MTV music videos, and my idols – Steven Spielberg, Stan Winston, James Horner  – got to have their names loved and embraced, transforming into rockstars. 

But most importantly, it was the night when a little girl – who always felt like an outsider –  waiting for people to not point out the strange way she talked, finally felt like she was cool. Adults and peers wanted to know her thoughts and opinions – not out of sympathy, but because they could tell it was her passion. And when her eyes sparkled, as the various movie montages played, everyone noticed that this wasn’t just any night of TV – the Oscars had become her everything.

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Now, I’m quite aware that there is probably some individual reading this, pushing up their glasses, waiting to point out the obvious: “Stop trying to make the Oscars seem like some dream factory! Your optimistic view is what makes people waste their time and money to reach to nothing.” And you would be right. Not all of the things that inspire us are perfect – in fact, I’ve only just learned that the Academy was started because film studios didn’t want various unions within Hollywood gaining too much power. So trust me, the Oscars aren’t as sugarcoated and wonderful as even my younger self made them out to be.

Of course, since the first televised Oscars in 1953, greed and pretentious figures brought the ceremony to family’s living rooms across the country. But that night, Bob Hope (the ceremony’s host) wasn’t thinking of how much power the then “child bride” format known as television would have on Hollywood. He even remarked that TV is where movies go to die – which now in 2019, is quite a different story, for some movies are now only brought back to life via Netflix subscriptions or Amazon Fire TV Sticks. 

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Bob Hope, hosting the first televised Oscars in 1953

But does that mean the Academy should become embarrassed of the ceremonial traditions that the Oscars have adopted since its initial celebration, just to please the TV gods? Should the focus be to put a spotlight on a shampoo commercial starring Ariana Grande, so more teens will retweet during the ceremony? Or should it be to continue to celebrate the annual achievements in movies – as flawed as that may be? I happen to still think it is the second one. 

The history and importance of movies shouldn’t be secondary to pleasing the network executives or the majority of the world. Instead, the Oscars should find new ways to incorporate modern film lovers (of all shapes, shades, and varieties) into the celebration – increasing the diversity in both what and who is nominated. I’m “lucky” to see myself (as a caucasian woman) in the film landscape, but the true problem continues to be that not enough viewers of the telecast do. Nominating progression-stunted movies like Green Book shows that Hollywood is not really evolving, and new voices still need to be heard and represented in the fabric of Hollywood.

Roma, BlacKkKlansman, and Black Panther are a start, but (as shown in Be Kind Rewind’s brilliant video essay) knowing that Halle Berry is still the only woman of color to win Best Actress almost 20 years after her win is a big sign that change still needs to happen, not just at the Oscars, but Hollywood as a whole.

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Vanity Fair’s 2019 Hollywood Cover – Showing The “New” Diversity in Hollywood. Yet It Still Could Be Improved.

So with that, Academy, take a deep breath. Stop coming up with knee-jerk reactions to please the executives, and instead think of what time, patience, and perhaps even more inclusion could do to make the Oscars (and your industry) a constantly evolving celebration of filmmaking. The ceremony doesn’t need to become a cool, hip event, but rather a moment to stop and smell the cinematic roses. Embrace your history, learn from past mistakes, but don’t lose what is at the core of your event – reminding all of us why we love movies. 

That feeling is what has me returning to the Oscars time, and time again – hoping that maybe you’ll learn this lesson. And in a world that is so full of hate and negativity at every corner, it’s nice to be reminded of what a group of diverse and creative individuals can do when they work on something together – and how that can inspire the little girl inside of me to hope for an even brighter and more inclusive cinematic future. 

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