Back in August, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the creation of a new Oscars category: the absurdly named “Popular Film” category. The new category (for which the Academy offered no description) was, in the words of the Academy’s President John Bailey, a bid to “keep the Oscars and our academy relevant in a changing world.” Because announcing some vague, new award category with no explanation of the criteria films must meet to win it is an excellent way to stay relevant!
Filmmakers and film lovers alike immediately criticized the idea for its ambiguity and voiced concerns that it may cheapen the Oscars’ reputation. There was such backlash that the Academy dropped the idea barely a month after the announcement.
It’s hardly anything new for the Academy to be at the center of controversy, and in some way, it has been over the matter of “relevancy,” if by “relevancy” they mean listening to the diverse voices that exist in Hollywood in the 21st century. In recent years, the organization has been condemned — and rightly so — for everything from lack of inclusivity and representation to abusive men in the face of the #TimesUp movement.
They’ve been struggling to stay afloat for a while and have tried several tactics to do so, but at this point, any attempts to change feel disingenuous.
Attempts have also been made to reflect calls for increased diversity among the Oscar nominees: at this year’s ceremony, Greta Gerwig was the fifth woman ever, and Jordan Peele the fifth black person ever, to be nominated for the Best Director category. But these changes should’ve been made years ago.
Many of these attempts at increasing representation and giving important social issues a platform simply feel performative and hypocritical, especially when it comes to the problems with gender inequality and misogyny in the industry. In 2017, several women criticized the Academy for supporting gender equality in Hollywood while also nominating Casey Affleck — who was sued for sexual harassment in 2010 — for Best Actor.
Despite these allegations being discussed widely in the media before the ceremony, the Academy still awarded Affleck the Oscar, essentially giving women and sexual assault survivors everywhere a slap in the face. The same thing happened again in 2018: celebrities wore black on the red carpet to support the #TimesUp movement and take a stand against manipulative men in Hollywood. Later that same night, Gary Oldman, who was accused of domestic abuse by his ex-wife, won the Oscar for Best Actor.
The Academy also took their sweet time kicking out convicted rapists Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski this year, but I guess we should all just be relieved that they even recognized that Polanski raped a child 41 years after the fact.
The Academy has a clear pattern of listening to the voices of marginalized groups — or pretending to — and then treading all over any iota of progress they might have made. They act like they have made such huge gains in diversifying their organization, but measures like this should have been taken years ago. They repeatedly give women the platform to voice their concerns over unequal pay and misogynistic treatment in the movie industry, and moments later give abusive men the spotlight and the glory. The organization has alienated pretty much anyone they could possibly alienate except for white men. By now, I don’t see them making any meaningful or lasting changes, given that they have acted so hypocritically time and time again.
Back in 2016, during the #OscarsSoWhite boycott, there were calls to invent a completely new Academy — an organization that would listen to the concerns of people of color and women, that wouldn’t make a big show of enacting change just to go back to their old ways, that would completely transform the industry to make it representative, diverse and equal. What better time for that new Academy then now?
2018 has been a year of massive change and challenge to the existing social structures — the film industry needs to adapt, change and challenge those structures, too, if it has any hope of surviving (and surviving doesn’t mean remaking films from 50 years ago and making superhero flick after superhero flick). If that means burning down the 90-year-old Academy that has so far failed to move into the 21st century and building a new one from the ground up, so be it.