What’s the Deal with the Oscars?

Hannah Karpinski


In late February, the days are short, the nights are cold, and the weather is
gloomy. Students struggle to get through the awkward stretch of time between
the winter holidays and March Break, and just about everyone is suffering from
Seasonal Affective Disorder. So, in February, it is always such a pleasure to
sprawl out in front of my TV with a bowl of chips in my lap, and indulge in
watching the Oscars. I love betting on which movie will win each award, watching
the long montages, and gossiping about whose red carpet dress was stunning and
whose was a complete disaster. I know many students take this well-deserved
break and leave piles of homework and overflowing study binders behind to
immerse themselves in the world of the Red Carpet—even if is just for one

However, while the Oscars are supposed to entertain everyone,
I am always left feeling a little excluded—and I know I’m not the only one. The
variety of films nominated each year is slim, and not always directed towards
the “general audience.” This comes as no surprise to me, as most of the
Academy’s voters are—to put it bluntly—old, rich, white men. In fact, 86% of
them are above the age of 50, and 77% are males. Not to mention that a full 94%
of Academy members are white. So for example, The Artist, a silent film, would have 10 nominations and be a favourite contender for Best Picture, as most people on the voting panel are probably feeling nostalgic for the silent movie era that they all remember… OK, that might be an exaggeration—but it isn’t a big one.

The majority of nominees and voters fall into the same demography. In fact, it is rare to see women-centered movies nominated for awards—especially awards like Best Picture or Best Director. A test called the Bechdel Test was created as a gauge to measure women’s importance and relevance to a movie plot, and upon testing the nine movies nominated for the 2012 Best Picture award, only two passed. The way for a movie to pass the Bechdel Test is to include at least two female characters—with
names—who talk to each other at least once throughout the film, about anything
other than a man. Those are pretty low expectations, and the fact that just
over one fifth of nominated movies meet those expectations is appalling.

The host for the evening was Billy Crystal, returning to the stage for
the ninth time. While last year we had a slim glimmer of hope that perhaps
Eddie Murphy would host, that quickly crashed and burned, leaving us with Oscar
veteran Billy. At last year’s Oscars, not a single black man presented an
award, and with such statistics we could not expect to have a black man running
the night just one year later. So it’s not just women who are the obvious
minority at this event, but also people of colour. This is evident in the track
record of Oscar winners of, well, mostly white men. Chris Rock commented on
animation, saying, “If you’re a white man you can play an Arabian prince. And if you’re a black man you can play a donkey or a zebra.” Even this simple joke proves that racial equality and sensitivity are still not in place in the movie industry, a harsh fact that
is constantly reflected by the Oscars.

Most Oscar-nominated films cater to older, middle- to upper class citizens, and
don’t explore relevant or controversial issues. Sure, there were some important
movies that won, such as Saving Face, a short documentary about a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon who works to help women who have been injured in acid attacks, but films like that are rare to come across at the Oscars. Most films are “fluffy,” and are meant to entertain—not make people uncomfortable. While movements like Occupy Wall Street are in full force around the world, people would rather chatter about
the impressive visual effects in Hugo than bring serious social issues into the public eye. As Tom Hanks said, “Nothing takes the sting out of these tough
economic times like watching a bunch of millionaires giving golden statues to
each other.”

Oscar movies have become their own genre. And, even if this genre
doesn’t appeal to everyone, the show is still fun to watch and poke fun at. I
know more people now who watch the Oscars from a cynical perspective rather
than for pure, unadulterated enjoyment. The show served up joke material on
platters, most of it coming in the form of actors trying to be funny and
failing—such as Angelina Jolie’s leg, which had its own Twitter account before
she even stepped off stage. Some people are calling them the “Off-scars” or the
“Awks-cars,” but the one thing we know for sure is that this year’s show was a
pretty big letdown—in more ways than one.