The Academy Awards: A Demonstration of Good Filmmaking or a Night of Hollywood Being Woke?

Well, it’s that time of year again, when award shows grace our televisions and social media feeds every weekend. And our latest award show, the Oscars, came with quite a few surprises this year. For the second consecutive year, the Academy Awards lacked a host, and honestly, their presence wouldn’t have made much of a difference. 

Now in its 92nd year, the Academy Awards reached an all-time low of viewership, which isn’t surprising considering the amount of old white men who received nominations for average performances. The televised event kicked off with an amazing performance from the incredibly talented Janelle Monae, who performed “Come Alive” with a group of excellent backup dancers.

The first award of the night was Best Supporting Actor, which was given to Brad Pitt for his performance in “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.” Given that Brad Pitt is a mediocre white man, this was unsurprising. The night continued with Mindy Kaling presenting the award for Best Animated Feature Film, which went to “Toy Story 4. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I personally didn’t feel moved by a movie about a sentient fork attempting to throw itself in the trash. I found “How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World” to be a much more compelling story with beautiful art. Clearly, the Oscar Committee felt differently. 

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled casual racism and favoring of ordinary white men to present the award for Best Animated Short: “Hair Love,” a heart-warming short film about a Black father learning to care for his daughter’s natural hair. During the acceptance speech, the director explained his desire to have more representation of Black hair and to normalize it. 

After this brief intermission from casual racism, we returned to the comfort zones of white America with a performance from Idina Menzel and the voices of Elsa from around the world singing “Into the Unknown.” Menzel, dressed in a stunning white gown, sang the majority of the song, while the other singers surrounded her in pink dresses and sang merely a line each. None of these women were Black. Despite this, the song was sung beautifully. 

Keanu Reeves and Diane Keaton presented the first of four awards that Bong Joon Ho received for his film “Parasite.” Bong won the award for Best Original Screenplay.

Mark Ruffalo, before announcing the award for Best Documentary Feature Film, seemed quite proud to make a speech about womens’ rights and equality —  although, it seems like its sentiments were lost on the Oscar Committee when choosing both nominees and winners. 

When Mahershala Ali announced the winner of Best Supporting Actress, which went to Laura Dern for her role in “Marriage Story, I began wondering why the big acting awards are separated by gender. Does this mean to imply that the acting skills between men and women are incomparable? Or that there are in fact, only two genders? I think separating awards by gender is an outdated relic of the past and is unnecessary. I had several questions regarding the reasoning behind the separation of gender from the start of the practice at the Academy Awards.

My confusion on the subject was interrupted by a strange, and seemingly random, performance by Eminem of a song that was released eighteen years ago. He then received a standing ovation for a surprisingly mediocre performance. Observer Alex Kingsley ’20 noted that, “The only reason I’m happy Eminem got a standing ovation is because I got to see more of Janelle Monae when she stood.” 

We moved to the more technical side of filmmaking to present the awards for sound editing, cinematography, and film editing, which were broken up by musical interludes. Randy Newman sang a rendition of “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from “Toy Story 4” that was simply lovely. Cynthia Erivo then graced the stage and performed her anthem “Stand Up” from “Harriet”, which I personally have been listening to on repeat for weeks. The performance was top-notch and brought the audience to their feet. A dramatic change from Erivo’s anthem for freedom, Rebel Wilson and James Corden took the stage dressed as their characters in the movie “Cats” to present the award for Best Visual Effects, which went to “1917.” Wilson and Corden made a dig at the makers of “Cats” by saying in unison, “As cast members of ‘Cats,’ we of all people understand the importance of good visual effects.” 

At this point in the evening, “Parasite” won its second award of the night for Best International Film. We may have lacked representation in nearly every way at this event, but “Parasite,” a Korean thriller, at least, came out victorious multiple times.

Three popular women in the film industry, Gal Gadot, Brie Larson, and Sigourney Weaver, presented the award for Best Original Score, which went to “Joker.” I was pleasantly surprised that this was “Joker”’s first award of the night. I watched in awe as Cynthia Erivo was evilly robbed of the award for Best Original Song, which was given to Elton John for “I’m Gonna Love me Again.” I struggled not to turn off the television entirely at this point of the night. The Oscar Committee, however, (almost) redeemed themselves in my eyes when they gave Best Director to Bong Joon Ho, which was his third award of the night. I was disturbed and upset that when Bong thanked Martin Scorcese during his acceptance speech, the audience turned and gave a standing ovation to Scorcese — not Bong, the creator of the incredible film who was still giving his speech. I suppose you can’t really expect a room of white people to pay respect where it is actually due.

As the evening closed, I excitedly awaited the big name awards. Billie Eilish performed during the recognition of people in the film industry who died this year, and it was quite a lovely performance and presentation. No one was surprised when Joaquin Phoenix from “Joker” took home the award for Best Actor and Renée Zellwegger from “Judy” took home the award for Best Actress. Again, what’s with the gendered awards? 

I was, however, pleasantly surprised when Jane Fonda made her appearance and announced that “Parasite” had won Best Picture. Despite the Oscar Committee’s failure to nominate nearly enough people of color, I was glad “Parasite” got the recognition of excellence that it deserved.

For example, “Us” was a great film that deserved recognition for its brilliant story, acting, and cinematography, with a Black director and a largely Black cast. I was surprised that it wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar. I also felt that “Hustlers” was a film that was worthy of recognition. 

Another Oscars, another year of long award shows where white people attempt to demonstrate how woke they are. In some ways, they succeeded this year. In many others, they didn’t. Despite this, the 92nd Academy Awards brought a night of somewhat entertaining content to the world of Hollywood.

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