Friday, January 22, 2016

FIVE FIXES TO MAKE THE ACADEMY AWARDS BOTH MORE DIVERSE AND MORE MODERN


The Academy Awards are being criticized left and right for their lack of diversity in the acting categories. It's spawned a popular Twitter hashtag in #OscarsSoWhite. Spike Lee and Will Smith are boycotting the ceremony, and there even have been calls for Chris Rock to resign as host. It seems everyone is offering up an opinion to the press, even Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling. And it's all turning this year's awards into the most tainted in years.
The failure to nominate even one actor or actress who's a minority is not the only problem. A whole host of them have left the Oscars outdated and compromised for years now. If the motion picture community truly wants its top awards show to continue to be as relevant as possible and more reflective of the times we live in, they should address at least five other issues that have marred the most famous film awards for too long now.

Go back to five Best Picture nominees
When WALL-E and THE DARK KNIGHT, two of 2008’s most critically acclaimed and box office winners, failed to receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture the Academy panicked. To show they were capable of nominating the most popular fare as well as critical darlings and smaller films, they overcompensated the next year by pushing the Best Picture category to 10 nominees. Hopefully more entries would include popular hits too. And when the sci-fi film DISTRICT 9 and the animated UP were nominated, the gambit seemed to be paying off. But since then, commercial fare still misses the cut. Movies that were hugely popular with critics and audiences like CREED, INSIDE OUT and STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS were overlooked this year. Even worse, the list of Best Films go up and down each year. Sometimes the list has yielded 10, others only eight, like this year. The expanded list has become woefully inconsistent and just as excluding. Such inconsistency mars the most important category of all at the Oscars and it's time to restore it to only five films.

Do away with the preferential ballot
The complex point system that voters now use to compile a list of their choices for Best Picture is lengthy, confusing with its weighted numbers of preference, and roundly criticized for honoring certain films that may not score with the most voting members. Too many popular films that appear farther down on lists, but show up on more ballots nonetheless, are still are not placing enough in the final tally versus those that are more beloved but remain niche. Frankly, such voting simply offers too many choices, and complications. It would be better for Academy members to simply pick their one favorite in whatever category or categories they're voting on.

Eliminate outdated categories and add better ones
Why, oh why, is there still a Best Song category? Most of the nominees are songs that run over the end credits, and  that is really not a song from a motion picture. But there are not enough of those being written these days so it begs the question why this outdated and hard-pressed to come up with five worthy nominees category even remains on the ballot. 

There are two Oscar categories that are not currently represented that deserve to be, and they should replace this dud. A Best Stunt Work category would easily yield an amazing list of nominees every year. Why, 2015 had these films with amazing stunt work to choose from: MAD MAX FURY ROAD, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, SICARIO, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, FURIOUS 7, CREED, THE ASSASSIN, POINT BREAK, SPECTRE, ANT-MAN, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and even SPY.

And if the SAG Awards can honor a Best Stunt Ensemble, can't the Academy give out an Oscar for Best Casting? The Emmys do. Why shouldn't the Academy? 

Implement voting requirements
After 12 YEARS A SLAVE won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2013, a number of Academy members admitted to voting for it despite not seeing it. Should there be a way to register voters, to make sure they see films before voting? Political correctness should not be marking any ballots, nor should secretaries do the same for lazy producers who hand off such responsibilities. Perhaps the truest way to ensure that the voting is truly taken seriously is to require some sort of proof of members viewing the actual films. Sure, it would be hard to instill, but Emmys do blue ribbon panels. Is it time for the Oscars to require similar commitment from their voters?  Such informed decision making could add diversity as such films would be seen. Idris Elba likely was passed over for his terrific work in BEASTS OF NO NATION because not enough voters saw it, not because he was a minority that white voters snubbed.  

Revamp the telecast to be more like the Tony’s
Practically every year the Oscar telecast loses viewers. Sure, it’s the victim of awards show fatigue, following the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards, and a host of others. However, the telecast itself is as much to blame for turning off fans. The length pushes close to a dragging four hours, year in and year out. The presenters are uninspired, sloppily rehearsed or given inane banter to recite. And musical numbers bog down the show. And too many clip packages honor the history of Hollywood, rather than the highlights of the year. Is this truly the best that the town can do for Hollywood's biggest night? Of course not. 

And like the Tony’s, the Oscars should relegate the less relevant categories to be given out before the telecast. Clips of those awards should be shown during the live broadcast, but they wouldn't take up as much time. That way, winners from the Live Action, Animated, and Documentary Shorts category would still get their day in the sun, in front of their peers, but the shortened clips of their victories would keep the show moving faster. 

The fact that we’re talking about the problems with Oscar’s lack of diversity is a good thing. There are too many old, white male viewers who are not in touch with the times. But they're not in touch with modern sexuality either as the snubbing of CAROL for Best Picture suggests, even though it scored six nods elsewhere. And that older contingency doesn't appreciate genre enough either. If they did, they'd have nominated the sublime hit EX MACHINA in more categories. Children would get nominated for superb work, like Jacob Tremblay for ROOM, as well. There is all kinds of diversity that goes beyond skin color that the Oscars needs to get with the program on. 

Ultimately, making movies that promote more diversity, and are more inclusive, from casting to promotions, are the areas where filmmakers really needs to start. Television is far more diverse in such categories, but movies still seem locked in a time warp. Studios and producers need to take the chance on films that tell more diverse stories. They need to be more color blind on casting. And they need to keep pushing new stories, not just sequels and franchises. Then, and only then, can the town and the Oscars truly pat itself on the back in a way that everyone will applaud. 

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