Why the All White Oscar Nominations Prove the Oscars are Silly

Eliot HochbergCulture, Movies, OpinionLeave a Comment

fixoscarThe World Series. The Super Bowl. Miss Universe.

Three events that claim to be something they’re not.

The World Series doesn’t represent the world. It should be call the U.S. professional baseball championships. Or the MLB Championships, at least. But it’s not, and anyone outside the U.S. thinks that it’s silly.

The Super Bowl isn’t super. It’s just the U.S. American Football Championships. And Miss Universe? Well, maybe Earth is the only planet with two genders. We don’t really know.

So it is with the Oscars.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences makes a fundamental assumption: that only films originating in the U.S. (or, at minimum, in English) count. Anything else is a “foreign” film. As a part of this, then, the racial and cultural balance of America skews the voting. Is it any wonder, then, that in a country that is still 70% white, that the vast majority of Oscar nominees would also be white?

Now imagine if the Oscars were representing the entire world. With Caucasians representing about 1/6 of the world’s population, and various types of Asians being about 60%, you wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of awards went to India, China, Japan, and so forth.

And see, that’s why the Oscars are silly. Because it’s assumed that somehow, the members of that body know what the best films in the world are. Or even the best films of America. The truth is, the whole structure of the Oscars is backwards. Why is it separated into men and women? Why is there even only one winner? How can you decide that one outstanding performance is better than another, equally outstanding performance.

Even if there weren’t racial bias based on population demographics, it’s still incredibly silly.

But it’s still understandable that if you did really well in a film you acted in, or that you directed, that you’d be bummed that you weren’t even on the list because you weren’t white, and white people just didn’t see your film, or didn’t think of it when they were voting.

If the Oscars are silly, then, is it worth thinking about how to fix it? I guess so. Words are cheap, and I have plenty of them.

First, rather than boycotting or asking for quotas, if I were a member of the Academy, I’d ask: “What is the Academy, really? What do we represent?”

Is the Academy meant to reflect U.S. tastes only, or is it meant to represent excellence in film worldwide? I’d vote for the latter, and here’s what I’d do.

First, I’d create regional Academies. The current Academy would represent all films in English. As such, its region would include Canada, Australia, the U.K., New Zealand, and any other predominantly English speaking country I’d missed. It would remain based in the U.S., but have offices in any country that was English speaking. Then, I’d have Academies for other major languages, and establish a main office in the regions where those languages are spoken. Why? Because narrative film is about both the visual and the spoken, and very often, if you don’t speak the language, you miss everything else, even with a translation.

Now, each of these Academies would rate films in their language and region; films of other languages would be considered “foreign” in their voting. Members of these Academies would be the people who make films in those languages. There would also be a catchall Academy for languages that either no longer had a country, or whose population was too small to support its own Academy. And, you could be a member of more than one region, if you performed in more than one language, or where otherwise involved in more than one language. But because it’s all part of the same system, you’d only have one set of dues, and one reference to your name. Because computers.

Next, instead of voting for nominees, the films would be rated by members. It’s possible that every film in a given year could receive a 100 rating, or a 0 rating. Below 50 would mean that the film didn’t display enough quality to be deemed “professional,” and would be a serious mark against the film or person, so very few would receive that. However, when rating a film, in addition to overall ratings given by individuals, the ratings given to the work of each person involved would be added in and weighted. That would also lead to a number from 0-100.

In addition to these subjective ratings from creative members, membership would be expanded to critics (if they aren’t already a part), and a rating for films would be added. Not sure if the critics would be included in other aspects or not. At the start, I think it would just be for the overall film. Then, total box office would be included for the region covered by the Academy. These two numbers would included with the individual film rating number and theaggregate performance of participants rating number. Average the four numbers together to create the Academy Rating.

The Academy Rating of a film would be in flux as more members weighed in. Rules would need to be created for films that didn’t have very many member ratings. Perhaps they would be assigned to new members as part of their membership duties. There would be a deadline for each year, and every film submitted that reached the minimum box office/screens shown on the required time period would have its rating announced publicly. From this list, the top 100 entries for each category would then be voted on for inclusion in the nominees for the major awards. But at this point, there would be no doubt as to which films reached a high quality. That information would be public.

Now, we need to address categories.

First, acting would no longer be split by gender. There’s no reason for this, so it would go away. I would also change the nomenclature. Yes, it’s an honor just to be nominated, but in truth, being nominated is an award in itself, and in this system, it would be. Films and the people who make them would be nominated simply by qualifying under the rules of each Academy. The ten or so top qualifiers would win Oscars of Recognition, for being good enough to be in the top ten. Then, the one of those recognized voted as the top in that category would win a Best Oscar for that category. Then, they really would all be winners. All would receive statues, with the Recognition Oscars being slightly smaller or something. There would also be the possibility of ties, which should be encouraged, not discouraged.

I won’t go into all of the categories. But I will say that there needs to be more recognition for different contributions. Specifically, special effects, where there are so many films that rely heavily on them. There would then be a category in addition to Animation, for Best Special Effect film. I also feel like comedy films and musicals get the short end of the stick, so I would have separate categories for drama, comedy, musical, and other, which would be a place for those films that don’t fit neatly into one category. And, films could play for more than one category. Then there would still be a Best Picture regardless of category.

Finally, every four years, there would be a World Oscars. This event would be for films of the previous four years of regional awards. Only films, creators, and actors that won their categories would be eligible. Language wouldn’t matter; there would be no foreign film categories, although winning Best Foreign Film in any region would allow you to qualify to be nominated in the World Oscars.

Then, any member of any Academy would be eligible to vote. It’s likely the first few times, Chinese and Indian film industries would dominate. But over time, it would likely even out. Maybe.

In this way, the Academy could actually do some good in the world: encourage cross-cultural sharing of content, and help create a more even playing field for various world voices. Of course, someone would be left out, as the world’s population isn’t uniform, and not every language has wealthy patrons. But at least it would be more representative of the make up of the whole world, rather than just the U.S.

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Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.

Eliot HochbergWhy the All White Oscar Nominations Prove the Oscars are Silly