The Academy, like most cultural institutions in this country, rely on the press and the online voices to guide them in what they believe is the “right” direction. They have stopped relying on the market, which is really how most of us have consumed entertainment. Movies get made not for awards but for audiences. Those audiences pay to see the movies. The big hits are then evaluated by the industry to award them for being grand successes. Each branch of the Academy awards what they consider the highest achievement in their particular industry.
The Academy puts together all aspects that go into making a movie – the designers, the composers, the makeup artists, the effects people, the cinematographers, the editors, the sound designers, the actors, the writers, the directors and the producers. Altogether they’re supposed to decide what deserves to be given their highest honor of “best” of the year.
The problem is that they no longer have audiences. They have become the First Class section of an airplane. They’re given custom-made meals suited to their specific tastes exactly. Imagine, say, Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow were on board and the meals had to meet their approval. They’d be delicious, sustainable, healthy, and above all, probably too expensive for those folks back in Coach.
The majority on the airplane by 75% are the people who got the cheaper tickets and have crammed themselves into the seats in the back. Babies are crying, cups are spilling, and arguments about masks are erupting, but they’re all making do. Meanwhile, in First Class, things are quiet, and peaceful. Everyone has a cashmere blanket, a sustainable organic ice-cold martini. They have their own food, their own personal experience — life is good.
Meanwhile, back in coach life isn’t so good. Not only are they suffering through the most uncomfortable flight of their lives, they know the people in the front have the money to escape all of it. They can’t even see them because they are walled off. Money can buy it, my friends.
It isn’t that the Academy represents the rich – it kinda does – but it’s more than they have their own custom-made experience. They are given movies grown in the hothouse like heirloom tomatoes. They only have to decide which ones they prefer.
The Golden Globes were an important stop between the critics awards, the industry awards and the Oscars because they weren’t as insular. Plenty of them were riding in Coach and had one foot in the real world. That led to more ideological diversity in the lead-up to the Oscars. That was, to my mind, their worth. Who knows if that’s still going to be the case or whether they too will have to operate like the Oscars – terrified into paralysis out of fear of being publicly shamed.
I have been covering the Oscars every day of my life almost for the past 22 years. I’ve been writing about this as a potential outcome for the way things have been going. We have arrived at exactly the place I most feared. That is, the public just tunes them out now except for the small group that is still interested. By last count, roughly 16 million. Not a bad number but way down from previous years.
Pete Hammond reports on a meeting designed to boost interest in the Oscars. David Poland in his newsletter turned it into a chart:
This was part of a slideshow presented to members but my first thought on this is that they don’t IDENTIFY as women. They ARE women. They identify as writers, directors, designers, composers. They don’t say the number that identifies as any other group, male for instance, or gender non-conforming. So why only women? 34% ARE women. I think that if you say you “identify” as a woman then that is the most important thing about you. For me it wouldn’t be. I “identify” as a mother, a writer, a free thinker. I would never say “I identify” as a woman, though I know it’s the politically correct thing to say. It sounds false to me so I would not say it.
The Academy has likely annoyed half its membership by speaking the language of the Uber-Woke just to protect themselves from angry phone calls. Why are they doing that and then pretending they’re going to “make change”?
Look, if this is who they are now, this is who they are now. There is no going back. What that means is that they will continue to alienate people they count on to watch their movies, watch their telecast, etc. It’s easy to slip into that perfect utopian bubble represented by high-status online voices. But you pay a price for that. The farther you get away from the free market guiding you, the less accessible you become.
I know, we all harangued them years to shake up their demographics and they’ve done it. And I know it’s been shocking that 80% are white and 70% are male. They’ve done as good a job as they can do while still remaining an organization that rewards merit. But now, they (and Hollywood overall) seem to be appealing to the loudest minority of voices rather than the silent majority. That is obviously my (unpopular) opinion.
Hammond goes through it all more in detail, clarifying several points people will want to know, like whether they’ll have the awards that were taken off the live show last year. And about their inclusivity mandate that has all but destroyed their brand among the general public (they are now known for two things by most people – their inclusivity mandate and the Oscar slap) well-intentioned though it is. Hammond quotes them:
Kramer also added that “Our goal is not to disqualify any films, rather to celebrate and encourage our collective progress towards greater representation and inclusion in the industry. We want people to make the films they want to make. Given the tremendous efforts of the industry, for the past Oscars all of the Best Picture nominees qualified and would have met the standards.”
They should be saying: we want people to make the films people WANT TO SEE. If they want to fix the Oscars and fix the industry they should say that. Having constraints like pleasing the public is a great way to make great movies that last until the end of time. Otherwise, it truly is not only naval gazing of the highest order, but preaching to the choir. Make movies FOR audiences. That is not that hard to do. They have to be authentically themselves, not pandering to the passengers in First Class to save them from embarrassment among the activists.
Movies that are authentically themselves tell THE TRUTH, not a negotiated truth. No Country for Old Men doesn’t suddenly spiral off into the direction of putting in a character from Mexico so as not to insult activists who might call the film too white-centric (yes, I know I used to do this, I know, I know). If it did that, it wouldn’t be one of the greatest films of all time. It is authentically itself because it tells THE TRUTH of the story McCarthy wanted to tell.
The minute a movie spirals off into a “should think” it’s over. The whole thing collapses and becomes propaganda. Now, maybe they feel that this is the best way to appeal to Gen-Z, who have become comfortable with curating their own reality as the first generation to come of age completely on social media. Maybe they think Gen-Z won’t watch if they think it doesn’t pander to the newfound rapture of the new Left. But I’m not so sure that’s true. These things work to protect the people making the movies, making the money, holding onto status and power.
So whom are they really made for?
If you are wondering what we talk about when we talk about “woke,” that’s it. They step outside of their authentic selves to tell us what they want to be true, rather than what is true. They make aspirational content, which has mostly no use to the general public, unless we’re deciding in 2022 that cinema no longer exists. In its place, quite simply, religion.
Even Gone with the Wind, for all of its obvious problems, is still authentically itself. It reflects the time and the belief systems of the people who made movies and paid to see movies in the 1930s. That is still the TRUTH. Gone with the Wind believed it was “woke” for its time. The Academy also believed they were, otherwise they would not have awarded Hattie McDaniel. It’s just that times changed. People changed. People evolved. The movie reflects its time.
When I watched Back to the Future recently, a movie I loved and a movie of its time, it was clear they were trying to be what defined “woke” back then, or socially conscious. They had a guy who worked in the soda shop who was Black and who grow up to be Mayor. But if you watch it now, you see shitstorms-a-plenty. No matter how good their intentions were at the time, those same good intentions splash back like toilet water now. Michael J. Fox is telling this guy to be mayor and he goes on to be mayor? Not to mention, Michael J. Fox perhaps invented and credited for discovering Chuck Berry?
We can go back through all of our history and all of our art with a judgmental, scolding eye and we can say — look at all of those evil white people back then. Look at all of the terrible things they’ve done. Yes, some of it has been terrible. Intentionally so. But in the end, it’s all part of the game of evolving, changing. The one thing we know is wrong is puritanism – no matter if it’s 1692 or 2022.
Most people are now attuned to what is defined as “woke.” Bill Maher kind of covers this in this monologue:
The problem for many right now is that they not only want to be seen as good people. They want to BE good people. I’m not so sure that translates all that well when it comes to telling great stories, unless you are part of a church or utopian cult wherein every story you tell must back up the unified belief system, which is unfortunately the point we’ve arrived.
So the Academy isn’t sending that message with their “identifies as women” thing, but it does most definitely show you that someone is leaning over their shoulder and telling them what they must do in order to be accepted. And that makes me a wee bit nervous. That makes me think we’re just steps away from gender neutral categories.
And look, if that’s their chosen direction, who am I to say anything? The future does not belong to me. It belongs to the young. They will decide what kind of movies they like and what kind of movies they want.
All I can do is say that storytelling must also be in the hands of people who have the talent, the wisdom and the courage to tell them honestly, authentically, without being forced to pander to any religious doctrine.
It is perhaps unpopular to say but it’s the truth. It isn’t just that people aren’t watching the Oscars. It’s that people are tuning out the whole community. To me, it isn’t enough to just say “let the Oscars go to streaming and make them only for those who love them.” That has never been the point or the value of the Oscars. They can’t possibly represent either a cultural moment or a career boost for anyone if they don’t have larger value.
We have so many awards now. Critics awards, MTV awards, awards that are just handed out with no one even voting on them. The Oscars had value because they drove the film industry. I don’t think we should give up on them yet. I just think we should all be more encouraging and less judgmental when it comes to making, watching and reviewing films.