Editorial, Opinion

Award shows do matter | Editorial

Lily Gladstone won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture on Saturday. 

If Gladstone wins at the Academy Awards for her performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” on March 10, it would make her the first Native American to ever win a competitive Oscar.

Her race for the Academy Award for Best Actress, primarily with Emma Stone of “Poor Things,” is one of the most widely contested of this year’s award season. Some have claimed that a Stone win — regardless of merit — would be representative of film as a white-dominated industry, by means of snubbing an also well-deserving Native American woman of an Academy Award.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

With this in mind, it’s natural to think about the weight that awards hold in reflecting the state of our society and tracking social progress through awards decisions.

Many consumers have lost faith in the validity and accuracy of award show nominations and wins — often claiming that the decisions of the critics don’t represent the opinion of the masses. 

Award shows are losing viewership — not just due to the accessibility of post-broadcast streaming, but also on account of general disinterest in the hosts and content they showcase. 

Yet there’s still a case to be made for how important and deserving awards are of viewership and attention — whether that’s directly or indirectly — because the media we create and consume is reflective of where we stand as a country and a society. 

Award shows have historically displayed the underrepresentation of minority groups. At the 1939 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Gone with the Wind.” She was, however, seated at a segregated table on the far side of the room. The plaque she was awarded also went missing for 50 years from Howard University’s drama department before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced they would give the university a replacement. 

Stories such as that of McDaniel’s reflect the complexity of the way Americans and the film and television industry intertwine.  

Academy Awards, as well as other industry awards, can often be representative of the way we view society and mark trailblazers in the industry across generations. Despite still having a ways to go, we are seeing progress in the film and television industry.

In 2017, “Moonlight” became the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBTQ+-focused film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The film and its win made massive leaps for representing minority identities on screen, and those representations being awarded the highest honor in film was equally monumental.  

It’s also sometimes the case that a loss can hold just as much social value as a win. 

For example, when “Barbie” seemingly got snubbed in certain Oscar categories — such as Margot Robbie for Best Actress and Greta Gerwig for Best Director — public outcry drowned out attention regarding many of the other films and actors nominated. 

Similarly, when Jamie Lee Curtis won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2023 for her role in “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” online discourse also ensued as fans thought other nominees deserved the award. 

Viewers believed Angela Bassett and Stephanie Hsu — also of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” — were snubbed, which was significant not only because of these nominees’ immense talents but also because they lost to a white woman whose career has benefitted from nepotism.  

Cases such as these are a clear indicator that public opinion of award shows, in fact, acts as their own awards, superseding the physical trophies. 

Award shows are far more relevant than declining viewership might suggest. The media and talent that Americans choose to consume and support speak volumes about who we are as a people. 

Yes, it may be the Academy, a very specific group of people, making these decisions — after all, Hollywood is an age-old, often exclusive industry. But the wins, losses and public reaction to all that transpires at award shows are indicative of how far we’ve come, in both the industry and in society.

2023 and 2024 have seen major milestones in furthering equality and uplifting previously stifled voices in the film and television industry. 

At the 2024 Emmy Awards, Ayo Edebiri and Quinta Brunson won Best Lead Actress and Supporting Actress for a Comedy, respectively, the first time that two Black women won in the same year. Ali Wong also won Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Limited Series, becoming the first Asian actress to win a leading role award. 

Much of the qualms over the lack of director and actress nomination for “Barbie” also failed to acknowledge the importance of America Ferrera’s nomination for Best Supporting Actress — a win for the feminist message of the film and for Latin-American women overall.

Whether in the literal sense or with the waves they create in the media, this award season has proven more than any other that award shows ultimately do matter.

This Editorial was written by Opinion Co-Editor Lea Rivel.

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