If you follow me on twitter you may have noticed that before the start of the 88th Academy Awards last Sunday I worked myself into quite the frenzy. This will be my final Academy Awards post until next year but I wanted to close out this series by explaining why this award show matters so much, beyond a film geek like me and into the wider world.
Entertainment is America’s largest cultural export and as we know, media representation directly affects our cultural understanding. Though my Media Studies major may be showing itself a bit, I do not think it is a stretch to want to hold the film industry to a higher standard. Media Studies is a well-regarded field of study and you can see from this presentation that media representation and its cultural impact is a concentration that is taken very seriously. I am not arrogant enough to argue that its inclusion in higher education or what has come out of these media departments is the sole authority on the subject, but I think it does illustrates the importance of representation in media. This is one of the reasons why the Academy Awards are so meaningful to me – I have invested a lot of time (and my parents money) into studying film, how its made, and its impact on the world.
My philosophy on what makes an Oscar-worthy film is this: Writing, Acting, Directing, Cinematography, Music, Production Design, etc., etc. are all tools needed to tell a story well. All of these aspects can be judged technically by how they contribute to telling a story – it is possible to succeed technically without telling a good story, however, the result often distracts from the plot or highlights the deficiencies in the plot. An Oscar-worthy film says that all of these disparate elements enhance the story and leaves you with a message. The nominees of the 88th Academy Awards were predictable, but the winners were even more predictable. I was not surprised, not even by the supposed “upsets” of Mark Rylance winning Best Supporting Actor and Spotlight winning Best Picture. My feelings about films deemed “Oscar-worthy” are much like my feelings about literary fiction: you can use a lot of flowery language and large words, but at the end of the novel/film, what was the point? Beyond opportunities and representation, the point of #OscarsSoWhite for me is the ability to tell new and different stories that move us and better reflect the world around us. The economic impact of an Oscar on a filmmaker, actor, and/or producer is immeasurable and until or unless that system is broken down we will continue to be spoon fed the same tired and unimaginative stories with a few exceptions sold to us as the rule.