Academy Awards don’t signal social change

By Andrew Boschert / Columnist

This year’s Academy Awards delivered a pretty serious snub to Ava DuVernay for her role in directing the critically acclaimed movie “Selma.”

Just released earlier this month, doubt pervades about “Selma”’s chances at any awards this year, despite nomination.  And, considering the turbulent year in race relations, what should have been a simple gesture of giving acknowledgment where it was due has turned into an ugly matter. 

While it’s disheartening, I don’t entirely understand the surprise at the snub. The academy itself is 94 percent white and 76 percent male. The average age for the 6,000 voters is a spritely 63 years old . 

It’s not that I want the Academy Awards to become the Social Justice Awards, but the makeup of the academy voters does reflect a certain perspective.

The academy relies on its fundamental assumption that media can foster change. Selecting films such as 2009’s “The Hurt Locker,” which addresses bomb disposal during the Iraq War, and 2012’s “Argo,” which was about the Iran hostage crisis, allows The academy to influence society. However, the academy doesn’t always prove an agent of social justice as it perceives itself to be.

While the academy, for me, seems to artificially attempt to affect change, I feel conflicted about the Oscars. It’s hard to ignore the overt self-congratulation, the bias toward certain kinds of films and actors, sentimentalism and the alleged petitioning of the academy rules in the voting process. But occasionally, the good guys do win, as “12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture only last year. 

So, “Selma” got snubbed at a bad time, considering the social content it possessed. If “Selma” had been produced before “12 Years a Slave,” perhaps racism could have been on the academy’s agenda this year. Instead, I predict that “Boyhood” will take the gold since it creates dialogue about millennial life, an issue not yet touched upon by the academy. However, social change motivations aren’t the only culprit for “Selma” tanking. DuVernay herself has admitted that she lacks the connections to academy voters needed for a win.

“I know not one person in my branch,” DuVernay told Entertainment Weekly, referring to her networking shortfalls. Much of this is due to the fact that the academy is comprised of old, white men who DuVernay has less in common with, hence, less reason to fraternize with them.

The nearly uniform white, male makeup of the 6,000 voters suggests gender and racial disparities behind the scenes.  In spite of this lack of diversity, the awards show never cease to be entertaining. 

The glamour and opulence certainly gleam during the ceremony. Predicting the winning film ahead of time is exhilarating. 

The academy can continue to exist in a bubble as long as it has support. And, when the film industry commands hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide for garbage like the “Transformers” series and washed-up actors like Johnny Depp still have a career, the Academy can do as it pleases.

Even the most liberal of critics in the press, who call for even greater social justice, will sit and watch the entire four-hour program, technical awards — which merit contributions to the actual process of filmmaking rather than content — and all. Last year’s Oscars commanded a whopping 45 million viewers, the largest non-sports entertainment show of the decade.

Whether we like it or not, we agree with the academy by consensus.

 What do I do? Well, I just zone out and try and be happy for the beautiful people.

If I’m lucky, maybe Ricky Gervais will provide true entertainment and find a way to have a “wardrobe malfunction” in front of Meryl Streep.

We can only hope.

Andrew Boschert writes about a variety of topics, including pop culture and college, for The Pitt News.

Write to Andrew at [email protected].