• Aidan Pittman

How Can the Oscars Save Themselves?

Awards don’t really matter that much. It may seem strange to start this specific article like that. However, when discussing the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, it is important to note that the choices made by their voting body, the Academy, only reflect a small part of both opinions on cinema and a film’s lasting impact. They have certainly reserved spots in cinema history for many movies and artists. But overall they don’t define what the absolute best and most recognized films out there are. If anything, they serve purely as a means to celebrate the previous year in cinema. There’s no real reason to get upset when the winners differ from one’s preference.

That being said, it is difficult to think of film culture without the Oscars. Even with its declining popularity over the past few years, the ceremony has still managed to drive attention towards films, actors, and filmmakers that may have otherwise flown under the radar. Take, for example, 2021’s Drive My Car and The Worst Person in the World. Both non-English films from Japan and Norway respectively received much greater attention, both financially and mainstream-wise, after their nominations were announced. The show itself has also proven to be capable of having genuine and sincere moments. Just think of when Bong Joon-ho won Best Director for Parasite and praised Martin Scorsese during his acceptance of the award, or sound designer Kevin O’Connell’s beautiful speech when he finally won after 24 nominations. So, even though the Oscars are far from perfect in both concept and execution, they’ve done their part in helping smaller voices in the industry get heard and in being a celebration of film.

Promotional logo for the 94th Academy Awards held in 2022.

It’s for those reasons and more that the way the Oscars have been handling their show recently has become so frustrating. One example of this is them cutting categories from the live broadcast in a failed attempt to shorten it. In doing so, they have undercut the importance of some involved with filmmaking and created an overly copious focus on names. The Academy Awards have become more and more of an embarrassing, unfunny comedy routine desperately trying to appeal to those least likely to watch them. These efforts don’t seem to be working either, with their ratings dropping more and more every year. Even their most recent show was only able to get past 10 million viewers because of the now infamous Will Smith slap. That such an unexpected and, quite frankly stupid occurrence, ended up being the most interesting part of the show is a perfect sign of how lost in their ways the Oscars have become.

Chart from RVGamePC demonstrating viewership for the 94th Academy Awards, demonstrating a significant spike after Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock.

In general, the Academy had tried too hard to turn itself into a showcase of the biggest names in modern entertainment. To be fair, this sounds sensible on paper. However, they have done this by hauling whatever recognizable names they could get, leading to them cutting back on the actual celebration of film to bring in larger viewer bases. But the bases they are now choosing to target are unlikely to watch the Oscars regardless of this. It’s still a three-hour celebration of movies, most of which they likely haven’t seen. This leads to their prime audience of hardcore film fans feeling alienated.

With all this in mind, it is hard to feel sympathy for the nearly century-old organization. Even so, the celebration of cinema and those who have worked in it is still being kept strong by their show. That spirit is something that could be revived and showcased to millions of people worldwide.

So, rather than giving up on the Oscars entirely, it would be for the better to try and fix them to bring back what made them so impactful in the first place. Primarily, they have to switch their focus back to their original audience, being serious film lovers, in addition to making other necessary changes.

For starters, they should get a host that actually cares about film. They were able to pick up some slight attention by going without a host from 2019 to 2021. But after that first year, it became clear that the move wasn’t making the show more interesting or film-oriented. Then when they did get hosts again, three of them in fact, it seemed to be all for unfunny comedy bits rather than actually caring about the movies. One of them, Amy Schumer, even admitted that she hadn’t even watched any of the films nominated. This blatantly helps explain why the 2022 Academy Awards were so horribly received. If the Academy wants to reverse this criticism, they need to find a host who is as invested in film as their target audience is. And yes, such a potential host does exist. Comedian Patton Oswalt has shown an interest in film history in the past. Lady Gaga has proven herself to care about cinema and filmmaking as a whole too. The examples go on and on. It’s not as hard as the Academy thinks. They can and should find a host that cares about the impact of film if they want to save their ceremony because of how significant the host’s enthusiasm towards cinema impacts it.

Lady Gaga showing of her Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 91st Academy Awards after party. Photo by David Crotty.

Secondly, the Oscars should stop undermining the importance of those nominated. The most recent show was especially brutal with this, having eight categories cut from the live broadcast. This was ironically done in an attempt to shorten the show which ended up being the longest it had been in years. In addition to that, winners who are outside of the acting categories generally received much less time for their speeches. This really should make people rethink just how much the Academy actually cares about film. Thus, they should show equal attention to all categories. This would allow for a true celebration of those who make movies happen, and a more genuine celebration of cinema overall.

It is also worth mentioning that most of the Academy’s current direction is primarily because of their current broadcaster, ABC. This is best seen in the network’s threats towards the Academy to cancel the Oscars entirely if they did not cut categories. This proves that ABC is not doing the show any favors and is likely the main motivation behind other faulty decisions of the Oscars. So, once the Academy’s contract with their current network expires, it seems that it would be most beneficial for them to jump ship to another broadcaster willing to let the Academy focus on film rather than filler. Given the additional decline in live TV in general, it might even be smart to move to a streamer Doing so would not only give the Academy Awards a chance to regain its spark, but also make it available to a larger audience of movie lovers (and possibly still rake in those who would watch just for fun).

Chart from Statista demonstrating the viewership drop of the Academy Awards over the past decade.

The Oscars at their best are a pure, genuine commemoration of the art of film. The shift to minimizing the runtime and adding as much comedy as possible has clearly not worked out. Them reminding people why they love the movies is what made the show a staple in the first place. And it’s what still provides cinephiles an opportunity to celebrate their passion and inspires people to fall in with the magic of the movies.

Drive My Car is streaming on HBO Max

Parasite and The Worst Person in the World are streaming on Hulu


Works Cited:

Fink, Richard. “ABC Threatened to Cancel the Oscars If Categories Were Not Cut.” ScreenRant, 5 Mar. 2022, https://screenrant.com/oscars-2022-canceled-abc-academy-awards-cut-categories/.

Goldsmith, Jill. “'Drive My Car' Hits $1M as Indies Get Box Office Bump from Oscar Noms – Specialty Preview.” Deadline, Penske Media Corporation, 11 Feb. 2022, https://deadline.com/2022/02/box-office-oscar-best-picture-specialty-preview-1234931501/.

Humanick, Rob. “Interview: Patton Oswalt on I Love My Dad and Cinema as Memory.” Slant Magazine, 9 Aug. 2022, https://www.slantmagazine.com/features/patton-oswalt-interview-i-love-my-dad/.

McCarthy, Niall. “Infographic: Oscars' TV Audience Plummets to All-Time Low.” Statista Infographics, 27 Apr. 2021, https://www.statista.com/chart/13142/the-oscars-tv-audience-falls-to-all-time-low/.

Remis, Tommy. “How Has the Oscar Rating Changed Dramatically after Will Smith's ‘Physical Impact’?” RVgamepc, 31 Mar. 2022, https://rvgamepc.com/how-has-the-oscar-rating-changed-dramatically-after-will-smiths-physical-impact/.

Zilko, Christian. “Lady Gaga on Directing Her Own Film: 'I'm Interested in It, Yes'.” IndieWire, Penske Media Corporation, 29 Jan. 2022, https://www.indiewire.com/2022/01/lady-gaga-interested-in-directing-1234695080/.