Oscars 2021: a step in the right direction?

Image is Free Use from pixabay.com

Image is Free Use from pixabay.com

The Oscars Awards ceremony has always been a landmark event in the film-making industry. In fact, the event once garnered a viewership count upwards of 55 million people, but sadly has seen a steady dropoff in number for the past decade. However, this year, the Academy has brought something new to the table: for the first time, artists of color had the chance to sweep every acting category as well as best director. So are the Oscars on a journey of self-preservation? Or are they merely a relic of a bygone TV era?

Viewership of the Oscars Academy Awards show has been on a steady downward spiral for more than two decades now. After attracting nearly 55.2 million people in 1998, the year in which the hit classic “Titanic” won best picture, attentiveness to the event has started going down the drain, and just has not stopped. 

Perhaps Hollywood’s televised feast of self-congratulation no longer has the mystique that commanded masses of people to sit down and watch (arguably a spark only the Super Bowl is capable of now). The drop in popularity that television programs have seen in the past few years is no help, as a viewership of 10 million is what now passes for a massive audience. Of course, the Coronavirus pandemic, which closed most movie theaters for over a year and delayed openings of some films (many of them Blockbusters–namely “West Side Story” and “Not Time to Die”), only adds more fuel to the fire. Anyway, the trend is clear: the Oscars are losing viewers, and this pattern shows no signs of reversing course anytime soon.

But the Academy has been trying to find ways to improve their ratings lately, and it shows. 

First and foremost is the increased diversity of award nominees for this year. It is no secret that the Academy Awards have consistently had a diversity problem, which has basically been around since the beginning. The 2015 show even popularized use of the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite among fired-up audience members. Not only were the nominees largely white, but most trophies showed a pattern of being awarded to white males. In fact, a research study conducted by Insider News earlier this year found that in the top Oscar categories over the past 10 years, 89% of nominations went to white people and 71.1% went to men. 

Multiple attempts to change the Academy Awards narrative in the past few years have finally culminated in the drastically-altered diversity of 2021 nominees. Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) and Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) were nominated for best director–the first time two women have ever been nominated for the category in the same year. Zhao triumphed in that category, being the second woman in all of Oscars history to achieve such an accolade. Steven Yeun (Minari) became the first-ever Asian American actor nominated for best actor, while his co-star Youn Yuh-Jung picked up a nom for best supporting actress. Riz Ahmed of “Sound of Metal” was able to earn a best actor nomination as well. This is just to name a few. Overall, movies like “Nomadland”, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, and “Minari” greatly contributed to the newly-fledged landscape, and the most diverse pool of award nominations ever. Props to the Academy for catching up on the diversity cue.

However, not every part of the show this year has earned applause from viewers. The long speeches, elimination of musical numbers, and lack of a host all contributed to making the Oscars ceremony feel smaller–as if it were a work dinner planned just for members of the film industry rather than a celebration of the past year in movie-making. The event’s production quality further detracted from the value of the experience, as terrible direction and camera angles (which were neither funny nor entertaining) created opportunity for a variety of cringe moments on-screen. The usual musical and comedy showcase the Academy puts on in the middle of the event only added insult to injury. Personally, I have no idea what they were even trying to achieve with brief Q and A sessions with D-list celebrities and Glenn Close dancing to a rendition of “Da Butt”.  In the words of my wise brother ten minutes into the show, “let’s change the channel”.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the Oscars this year was its failure to acknowledge the devastating impact Coronavirus had on the film industry. After movie production halted for months, cinemas shut down or went out of business altogether, and tens of thousands of people were deprived of work, the ceremony seemed to show no sense of shared sacrifice, much less acknowledge the lives and careers that had been turned up on themselves completely by the virus. Furthermore, Frances McDormand’s impassioned commentary for viewers to return to movie theaters as soon as it’s safe came across as tone-deaf to me, betraying the chasm that exists between movie stars who are awarded their golden trophies and the blue-collar workers who facilitate all other aspects that make the entertainment ecosystem possible. 

The ending of the television airing seemed to match the overall mood of the event this year, with Joaquin Phoenix awkwardly delivering his congratulatory speech to an absent Anthony Hopkins on his receival of the “Best Actor” award. It ended the non-eventful night on a perfect dismayed note, with an awkward void that would’ve otherwise been filled by the program host.

All in all, the Oscars ceremony this year was nothing memorable. Despite its nod towards nominee diversity, the program’s abysmal reviews from critics on the event really do speak for themselves.