The 90th Academy Awards show, with record low telecast viewership, was both politically pointed and predictable. According to the Associated Press, 26.5 million people watched the Oscars on March 4, 2018, marking a 20 percent decline from the 33 million who watched the 89th Academy Awards. Conservative media sources blamed the decline in viewership on liberal pontification and argued that in politicizing the Academy Awards, Hollywood is alienating its audience. The show was filled with hypocrisies: attended by elitists who are for gun control and are protected by armed guards, and those who are against sexual harassment and are accused of sexual harassment. In other words, according to conservative media, the anti-Trumpian, hyper-liberal, and duplicitous Oscars caused the dip in ratings.
However, while the 90th Academy Awards experienced a decline in viewership, 2018 will be the largest year in cinema due to the proliferation of CGI-laden blockbusters released by massive franchises such as Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Jurassic World franchises. According to The Numbers, box office sales will net $13.5 billion in 2018. As the rising dominance of movies in popular culture augments the sociopolitical agency of film, the Academy Awards is uniquely positioned to establish modern norms within the movie industry. While conservative media vilifies the Oscars, the 2018 show represents a significant historical moment in film.
The 90th Academy Awards celebrated female filmmakers and artists of color after the 2017 triumph of “Moonlight” over “La La Land,” a signal of the Academy’s efforts to modernize and diversify its members. The show dedicated a segment to the #MeToo movement led by three women who had accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. After winning Best Actress for her role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Frances McDormand asked all the female nominees from every category to stand.
“Okay, look around, everybody. Look around, ladies and gentlemen, because we all have stories to tell and projects we need financed. Don’t talk to us about it at the parties tonight. Invite us into your office in a couple days, or you can come to ours, whatever suits you best, and we’ll tell you all about them. I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider,” McDormand said.
In a departure from the idealistic, McDormand offered practical advice to the financiers of Hollywood. Enough small talk, let’s be real: we have much to accomplish. Furthermore, an inclusion rider, which Stacy Smith defines in her TED Talk “The Data Behind Hollywood’s Sexism,” is an equity clause that an actor can include in their film contract which demands diversity in front of and behind the camera. Frances McDormand refused to explain the meaning of inclusion rider on stage; instead, she asked the audience to look it up, an effective strategic choice which successfully popularized the term through media coverage.
While politically pointed, the 90th Academy Awards shied away from history, opting for predictable awards with few upsets. While Best Director and the four acting categories seemed locked, the Best Picture Award remained relatively contested. After Jordan Peele accepted the Best Original Screenplay statue, the world wondered: could “Get Out” defy the genre bias against horror films to win Best Picture?
“I stopped writing this movie about 20 times because I thought it was impossible. I thought no one would ever make this movie, but I kept coming back to it because I knew if someone let me make this movie, that people would hear it and people would see it,” said Peele.
Peele’s film received high critical praise and industry awards, along with over $250 million worldwide. “Get Out” is a groundbreaking genre film about American society, which, had it won Best Picture, would have marked the third upset victory following “Moonlight” and “Spotlight,” establishing the Academy as an important voice within the modern cultural moment.
However, instead of horror, which is considered a “lesser” genre, the Academy opted for the resoundingly safe choice of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” for the top prize. The film was unexciting yet markedly political: a heart-warming, crowd-pleasing film about inclusivity that was anything-but-subtle. The film addressed intersectionality through a Cold War tale about a mute woman, a black woman, and a gay man who rescue an amphibious creature from government abuse. Despite its flaws, “The Shape of Water” was a historic Best Picture as the first science fiction film to win, the first with a female lead since Million Dollar Baby in 2004, and the first about love between a human and a nonhuman. However, the film was relatively forgettable and culturally insignificant when compared to its peers. And while “Get Out” was undoubtedly the popular cultural phenomenon of 2017, other nominees such as Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” and Luca Guadagnino’ “Call Me By Your Name” were far more complex and radical films about real emotional challenges than the 2018 Best Picture. Still, as a safe choice in today’s political climate, the Academy opted for fish sex.
While the Academy nominates films it considers high culture rather than the blockbuster films of pop culture, the Oscars establish precedent for mass cultural productions. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” for example, is more open, honest, and political than the original films. Drawing upon the political commentary in films such as “The Shape of Water” in 2017, “Moonlight” in 2016, and “Spotlight” in 2015, “The Last Jedi,” as a form of mass cultural fantasy, promotes environmentalism and animal rights, spirituality and faith, and multiethnic relationships and societies, shaping the values and beliefs of its millions of viewers across America.
The 90th Academy Awards, while suffering from low viewership and conservative criticism, positioned inclusivity, equity, and diversity as cornerstone values in the modern film industry. The Academy Awards show is a moment of reflection for high and pop cultural forms; the annual show communicates important values to an industry which wields massive influence over American society. While predictable and overdone, the Oscars are perhaps worthy of a few hours of our time, to be used as a moment of reflection upon the ways in which the moving picture shapes our daily realities.