For years, movie-lovers have complained that their favorite movies of the year are consistently ignored by the Academy Awards. Period pieces, manipulative crowd-pleasers, maudlin weep-fests, and movies produced by Harvey Weinstein are repeatedly lauded over popular fare such as comedies and action flicks, and more independent, experimental fare. Oscar nominees and winners trend this way due to the tastes of the Oscar voters—the 5,765 voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. But just who is it that belongs to this ultra-exclusive, members-only group, the group who decides which movies and artists are deemed the best of the year?
The Academy has refused to release a public list of its members, but when examining a new demographic study performed by the LA Times, the justification behind these Oscar trends comes to light. According to the study, Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian, 77% male, with Blacks and Latinos each making up less than 2% of the voters. The median voting age is 62, and only 14% of all voters are under 50. Membership in the Academy is for life, and thus there are hundreds of academy voters who haven’t been involved in the industry for decades.
Some of these numbers reflect the sad truth, that Hollywood is comprised of predominantly white males. In the Oscar’s 83 year history, less than 4% of all the acting awards have gone to African-Americans, but where are the meaty, starring roles for African-Americans in movies that aren’t directed by Tyler Perry? How can women win Oscars for writing and directing when they only comprise 19% of the Writer’s Guild and 7% of the Director’s Guild? With such low percentages, the odds of being involved in the 20 or so films that get recognized by the Oscars are not in their favor.
With these statistics illuminating many of the issues the Academy faces going forward in the 21st Century, primarily a disconnect with the populace, I have come to my own conclusion on how to justify my love for the Oscars with my feelings of discontent at the artists and films it awards. I now treat the Oscars as an awards show, not the awards show. When the Oscar nominations and winners come out, I try to think of those individuals and films as representing the tastes of a tiny segment of cinephiles whose votes were swayed by a tremendous amount of expert PR advisors and campaigns (e.g. the Harvey Weinstein machine), box-office dollars (“We have to nominate Avatar! It made $2 billion!), human interest stories, (“Jennifer Hudson went from American Idol castoff to Dreamgirls! How incredible is that!” /“It’s really Jeff Bridges’ turn!”) and personal biases (“I hate David Fincher. He’s such an asshole. He snubbed me at last year’s Vanity Fair after-party.”)
When I want to know which movies are the best of the year, besides considering my own opinions, I go to critics and outlets that I trust, such as the AV Club, whose top 15 movies of 2011 included a whopping TWO future Best Picture nominees (Hugo and The Tree of Life), and Rotten Tomatoes, whose top rated non-documentaries included Drive, 50/50, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part II, Take Shelter, Mission Impossible 4, and Win Win, some of my favorite movies of the year.
Of course, the Academy does get it right sometimes—I also loved The Descendents and Bridesmaids—but how can I trust them when The King’s Speech, a movie I forgot about a day after I saw it, wins Best Picture and Director over the haunting and relevant Social Network?
So this Sunday night, when you’re sitting in front of your television, drinking a glass of wine, wearing a tux, and feeling super swanky (by that I mean stylish, not "like Hilary Swank"), laugh at Billy Crystal’s rubber face and schticky opening number, bask in the glow of Meryl Streep’s majestic, matronly aura, lament the Academy’s decision to not let the Muppets and Bret Mackenzie perform their nominated song, and admire the pageantry, spectacle and glamor that is Martin Scorsese’s eyebrows. But don’t get upset and surprised when a black and white, silent movie about old-Hollywood and an actor who valiantly (albeit vainly) refuses to change with the times sweeps every category including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay (unless Woody takes it) and every technical award you could care less about. When it’s all over, you can turn it off, and go watch Drive, or The Interrupters, or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or Twilight, or whatever movie you liked the most. Because really, how can anyone say for certain which piece of art is the Best Picture?