So it's Oscar Season again, and almost time for the big event, but this year things have been different. There's been a huge backlash against the general lack of non-Caucasian actors nominated this year, as though this is anything new. Throughout the Oscar's history there have been very few black actors nominated, and nearly all of the exceptions, such as Hattie McDaniel (Gone With the Wind) or Lupita Nyong'o (Twelve Years a Slave) are films that deal with racism. In other words, about 95% of black actors are only recognized by the Academy for playing roles that required their character to be black. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with making a film about racism, but it is telling that this seems to be the only way for many black actors to gain recognition.
This has been the major issue that has led to people boycotting the Oscars. Quite a few of my brothers and sisters in blogging have written extensively on this particular topic, and yet I have remained silent on account of the distrust I already have with the Academy. It has in the past been respected as an institution, but the truth is it is nothing more than an elaborate marketing plan based on obvious biases. It is seen as an honor to be nominated, let alone win, and suddenly this creates a sense that some movies are more "artistic" than others. All of a sudden I have to go see a film I have no interest in just because it won Best Picture, even when there was another far better movie that same year which was not even nominated.
The racial controversy may be at the forefront of media attention now, but it is far from the only bias the Academy has displayed. It has already been long known that the Awards are notoriously biased when it comes to genre, meaning some films are more likely to get awards than others. Dramas in particular seem to be the most popular choices, especially romances and period pieces. Once in a while the odd crime thriller (The Departed, No Country for Old Men) or western (Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven) manages to win, but a really good science fiction, fantasy (The Lord of the Rings excepted), or action movie can rarely hope to even receive a nomination for anything higher than best visual effects or sound mixing. Very rarely to I find that the movies which do win actually deserve their awards.
One of the less obvious biases about the Academy Awards is that they are also structured around putting Hollywood front and center, and a very specific brand as well. The so-called "Best Picture" nominees are almost universally American-produced live-action feature films. There are in fact at least six other "best film" categories: Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Short, Best Live-Action Short, and Best Foreign-Language Film, and Best Documentary. The fact that all of these are in separate categories and seemingly ineligible for Best Picture (the presentation of which is always saved for last, making it seem the most important) creates the sense that the Academy perceives any film nominated for these awards as being of lesser quality than their American-produced period dramas.
There is no reason to break up the categories like this. By doing so, it creates the impression that some types of film are more meaningful than others. The fact that only English-speaking films can be nominated for Best Picture indicates that they are more important than any others made in a different language. It also implies that shorts, animated films, and documentaries are somehow inferior styles. This is an obvious sign of bias on the part of the Academy, which appears to look down on specific styles of film in favor of others. If was truly supposed to be giving Awards to the best films, than the Academy would be more inclusive, and films would be nominated based on their quality, not on what language they were made in, their runtime, or whether they were used live actors. This bias towards Hollywood might make more sense when one understands where the Awards came from.
The Academy was first founded in 1927 by Louis B. Mayer, as in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and the first Awards were presented in 1929 at a private meeting that lasted 15 minutes. The reason why these awards were created and publicized was to prevent the studios from being unionized. His plan was to present the awards as a way of making it appear that the studio was treating its employees well without actually doing anything, thus deterring them from joining labor unions. Of course, the studios were eventually unionized, and yet the Oscars continued to this day. It is a bit strange, isn't it? Now what started as a way for studios to cheat workers out of their rights has become an expensive marketing strategy to make it appear that audiences need to see their films.
Looking at these facts, it becomes clear that the Oscars nothing more than a dated relic of a bygone era, and one that is no longer needed. Whatever way you look at the Academy Wards, it all comes down to money and what will attract the most attention. The Awards are not given out for the benefits of the Artists or for audiences. It is all about the studios and the people who run them. They are the ones who benefit most from the extra income that inevitably comes from the people who watch the Oscars each year and who then purchase copies of the winning films afterwards. People are complaining about racial bias in the Oscars, when in fact it is the Oscars themselves that are the problem.