The Oscar ratings climbed from their lowest last year, at around 9.85 million, up to 16.6 million, but still down from where they were prior to 2020’s ratings crash. Ratings improved by 60 percent in total viewers and (rather more impressive) by 77 percent among adults 18-49. That’s pretty good, considering many believed it would never rise from last year’s almost 10 million. But they still have room for improvement with a few changes.
First, the Show
Now that the entire world has a reason to think about the Oscars, there is a good chance that there might be renewed interest in them next year. And no, of course I don’t think that means the Academy should encourage acts of violence to bring up the ratings. Unscripted moments like that can’t be faked.
There was more interest in the incident than there has been in the Oscars for quite some time. In fact, it is almost a badge of honor among certain segments of the population not to watch the Oscars. Again and again this week we saw people who commented on the broadcast, preface their remarks with “I don’t watch the Oscars but…”, “I never watch the Oscars but…”, “I would never watch the Oscars but…” But this year those anti-Oscar people could not look away from this incident and everyone was hunting down any clips they could find, any commentary they could find. It was all over TikTok, all over Twitter, all over every single news show and op-ed column. There had to be a “take.”
So why don’t people watch the Oscars? Why have they tuned them out? Why would it take something this catastrophic to get people to pay any attention to them whatsoever? There are many different reasons why, and the answers depend on whom you ask.
The camps vary from the apologists who will cite the collision of streaming content alongside superhero movies. They will also say the younger generations have too much competing electronic apparatus to sit still on a Sunday night and watch a three-hour ceremony that awards films they not only have never seen but have no interest in seeing.
Then there are those who actively hate the Oscars because they feel Hollywood has “gone woke,” like so many other major entertainment corporations. This isn’t just people on the Right, I hate to tell you. It’s people of every persuasion. Explained well by this TikTok person:
The problem for them is that when the see any filmmakers project themselves as our moral betters, or the arbiter of morality, their hypocrisy is easily exposed. This disconnect was especially when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, and not only did everyone go on with the show but some were seen to comfort him, and hundreds gave him a standing ovation. Making matters worse, prominent voices among the Wokerati on Twitter kept bending over backward to make excuses for him.
As Richard Rushfield wrote:
“Years of self-absorbed indulgence, of shows built around indulging all our problems and angst, our narcissism, and treating the audience like pesky distractions, came right down to this. This was the natural conclusion, the denouement if you will, of the entire drift of the past two decades of Oscar and of the industry.”
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) March 30, 2022
So why would so many Hollywood people want to portray themselves that way? As morally and ideologically pure? Because that is the awful place the Left overall, but especially the most educated, privileged and wealthy ruling class, find themselves now. This was made abundantly clear at last year’s Oscars where they walled themselves off using people of color. Sooner or later someone is going to simply say, “stop using us as shields to protect yourselves.”
The fact is, the image organizers of the Academy have to, sooner or later, let the membership actually be themselves, and not strive to portray them as the high priests and priestesses of the newfound religious zealotry of the Left. It is off-putting to untold millions of people, it is hypocritical and most of all, it is driving people away not just from the Oscars, but from the Democratic Party. I’ll leave actual politics out of this for now but suffice it to say, when Trump won the Oscars became the de facto publicity arm for the Democratic Party, instantly alienating millions of viewers on the Right.
Of course this is nothing very new. The Oscars have been left-leaning, and obviously so since the last transition point of the 1970s when it was the Conservatives, not the Democrats, who were the morality police. But once Trump won, that created another chasm. Not only did it seem to many that the Left had lost its mind, the Oscars often turned into one long episode of overreaction and a kind of mass hysteria over the films nominated. A prime example is La La Land.
Most pundits believed that La La Land was set to win Best Picture. But then accusations began to erupt that its handling of Jazz music represented a “racist” attitude. I remember what it felt like to direct our anger and frustration at La La Land after Trump won. I remember being so mad I left the Dolby theater only to find out from a phone call from Marshall Flores that Moonlight had, in fact, won Best Picture. Many of us felt as if some kind of social justice rectification had just occurred– enacting activism at a time when so many of us felt helpless. It was a glorious feeling and one we were eager to repeat.
The next year, Three Billboard of Ebbing, Missouri was up for Best Picture. Readers of this site remember that I defended the film and was dragged on Twitter over it and in fact lost a few readers who were angry with me for doing that. By then, though, I felt sure this was misplaced rage being taken out on some films with very little justification
Finally, the next year was Green Book. I don’t need to explain to you how that went down. This was the third film in the era of Trump to cause a firestorm in the Oscar punditry industry. Green Book, in the eyes of many, essentially became the Devil Himself. It was to be the end of the world if it won Best Picture. That episode was public enough that people started to notice what had happened to Hollywood. They were becoming consumed by their social justice issues. The films were the least of it. Activism was all. Notably though, none of that noise fazed Oscar voters at all. They handed Best Picture to the movie that millions of online movie-lovers had decided to despise.
By 2019, the Academy made another unexpected turnaround and awarded Parasite. Surely no one would dare complain about that. Then, in the blink of eye, Covid came along to disrupt the lives of everyone on the planet. That same year, the summer would explode into fiery (mostly peaceful) protests and riots. Those two seismic shifts changed everything for Hollywood, and most institutions of power in this country. The Oscars had already implemented an inclusivity mandate, Amazon films enacted an “Inclusivity Playbook,” the BAFTAs brought in committees to decide their nominees.
All of this played out inside the bubble of Hollywood, the dominating voices on Twitter and in the media that covers the Oscars. But to the public outside of it, the awards organizations looked then and look now like they are collapsing into themselves under a heap of too much money, too much “white guilt.” It appeared to have not that much to do with themselves, except for an effort to absolve their sins of wealth, awards and access by nonstop social justice virtue signaling every time they get to the mic.
You can watch the ratings dip from 2016 to now. The reason is clear. Activism has overwhelmed the whole point of the awards. Now a lot of people can think of nothing except whether or not the director is female, how well the films meet the demands of DEI. And while this serves the ruling class quite well – “Woke Capitalism” – it doesn’t serve the content consumers. And so it goes with the Oscars. That is the last thing they need, to have a Sunday Sermon delivered to them to atone for their sins. (And in fact, last Sunday Night was virtually devoid of such sermons.)
Next year, the Academy should continue to move in the same direction of Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall, who were all funny. But they should also go further and invite people who aren’t afraid to be controversial because that is what the Oscars will have to be to survive until 2028, which is how long they have their contract for. They don’t need anyone who’s gratuitously or recklessly offensive – but as we know, everything is offensive to someone, and if one person is offended it’s like one bad apple. All of Twitter and TikTok and Facebook flips out. The people running the show just have to live with it. Just survive it. That is what you have to do to be relevant and talked about now. You have to learn how to survive the controversy you generate. But because celebrities count on their status online it is necessary to find someone who doesn’t care.
You know someone who doesn’t care? Jim Carrey. He is rich enough and wise enough to not engage in Twitter. He can say whatever he wants. Unlike so many in the comedy world like Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, and even Jon Stewart (sadly), Carrey doesn’t need the admiration of Twitter or the Wokerati. Another one is Ricky Gervais. Dave Chappelle is another. If any of them were to host, would it mean some people would boycott the Oscars? Yes, some people will. Does it mean people might protest outside the Oscars? Yes, some will. Does it mean they will have to endure cruel and accusatory think pieces in Salon and the New York Times? Yes.
The alternative to this is to simply evacuate the mainstream and find a comfortable resting place on streaming where the Oscars don’t have to appeal broadly and can, instead, appeal only to their niche. They can give that niche everything it wants. They can still launch careers, perhaps, and still maintain their prestige. But if they want better ratings, they will have to deliver a show people actually want to watch. I think they can do it. They should not lose hope. They should realize what’s wrong isn’t with them, it’s with the massive machine of social media that has decided to use its power to connect all of us to turn it into some sadistic game of tag wherein the person who is targeted in a given day has their lives destroyed just to serve the endless content machine.
The pressure is now on celebrities to be on social media and appeal to that group of the thought-police. That has put them in a position of having to always weigh in on every controversy, every politician. That has made them, unfortunately, less interesting to the general public since now the mystique has vanished. Since they take a partisan side, that all but guarantees anyone who isn’t politically aligned with the progressive Left will end up either hating them or ignoring the work they put out. That hurts their brand as much as social media helps it.
The whole point of movie stars is a “gods and goddesses” dynamic. There should be a difference between them and us. If there is no difference, the interest in them in greatly diminished. This video by Critical Dinker lays it out fairly well.
There are many people who would tune into the Oscars if they knew the host was going to be really funny and take risks. The three hosts did a good job on Sunday, especially considering that much of their thunder was stolen by an actual physical assault. The Academy can go even further. They can have, gasp, a male host. I know, we’re supposed to be living in the land where no man should win any award or host any show or direct any award-winning movie. If you want people to watch your show – mix it up with some guy energy. Josh Brolin and Jason Mamoa were also potentially great hosts. Just saying.
Second, the Movies
I have already made the case for the Academy to go back to five Best Picture nominees. They could add another meaningful category like the DGA has, like “Best First Feature.” They could divide the categories the way the Golden Globes do, with five Musical/Comedy contenders and five Drama films. They could also divide the categories between “theatrical” and “streaming.” I mean, why not? Streaming can compete in theatrical if it runs in the theaters for a reasonable amount of time. That would be a motivator to keep movies in theaters but it would also make a place for streaming to compete for its own hybrid award that would not be “movie made for television” at the Emmys.
Apparently, CODA is going to be released in the movie theaters but I guess we’ll have to see if anyone is prepared to go back to theaters to see it.
“As our industry recognizes CODA with its highest honor, we’re excited once again to bring this moving film to theaters so that audiences can share in the experience of watching it together. As with previous theatrical runs, all showings will have open captions, so that the film is accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities,” Erica Anderson, a film distribution exec for Apple Original Films and Apple TV+, said in a statement.
CODA should be able to make back that $25 million that Apple bought it for at Sundance.
There is no question, though, that the era of the preferential ballot has made the Big Oscar Movie into the small niche darling. If they go back to five, can they make Best Picture Big Again?
The best reason to switch to five is to make the competition for the big prize exciting again – which would enhance the experience of watching the show. Every few years, a particularly outstanding movie should be able to sweep the way they did back in the day. That makes the Oscar brand more prominent. Everyone will know what wins Best Picture and they will seek out the winner. Maybe that doesn’t solve the Academy’s biggest need, which is to make the awards more diverse. Indeed, two films by women, one film by a Black director, one by a Japanese director – intersectional all over the place. The second Best Picture winner in a row was driven by a female protagonist like Nomadland was. So perhaps they are reaching their intended targets to be a vessel of diversity, equity and inclusion. Maybe that matters more than the Oscar brand, which I feel is greatly diluted with more than five nominees, especially since they rarely make it genre-inclusive, as was the original intent.
If the Academy want to boost the ratings, five films would likely help achieve that goal. That, and a host who can survive Twitter without apologizing. It isn’t completely over for the Academy but they will have to find a way to bob to the surface and not be taken under by the loudest voices that dominate media and Twitter but have very little connection to the bigger, more real-world outside of it.