Editorial: The Academy's Obsession with Popularity is Utterly Pathetic
by Alex Billington
March 25, 2022
What the heck is going on with The Academy?! They've lost all sense of direction. With the live broadcast of the Academy Awards Ceremony losing viewers consistently year after year, The Academy has started to freak out and lose their minds. Instead of making smart choices to redevelop what the awards mean, who they're (really) for, and why they (still) matter, they've gone entirely the other way - chasing popularity and desperately trying to figure out how to remain hip and valuable to younger generations. In doing so, they've started to sacrifice everything they stand for, including bringing extra attention to the craftspeople who are also a key part of movie-making and are often forgotten or ignored by most audiences. I adore the Academy Awards, I always have and always will, because they're an iconic institute that has always been about quality and professionalism. But this obsession with popularity and ratings is utterly pathetic and I'm so tired of it.
It all seems to have started when The Academy tried to introduce the "Best Popular Film" award back in 2018. It was their first very desperate "we're worried about ratings!" attempt to bring "popular" movies back to the Academy Awards. There have been endless discussions for the last decade about the Oscars going to movies that "no one has seen" or to small films that do not have mainstream appeal. This argument usually begins with some moviegoer saying their favorite movie of the year is some massive blockbuster superhero movie and yet it didn't get any Oscar nominations, so there must be something wrong with the Oscars. But that's a boring argument. The Academy's mission is not to award the most popular movies, but to celebrate the best movies - big or small, international or domestic. Starting in 2018 it was also clear that The Academy was prioritizing the awards ceremony broadcast as the most valuable aspect of the organization, with most decisions being driven by the myopic focus of how to get better TV ratings. This just sounds like petty greed.
The Academy should not be about ratings, it should not care about how many people are watching the show, it should care about the awards themselves, the films, the filmmakers, and everyone else involved in making movies around the world. They really should stop caring about popularity, even if it means the executives & board of directors won't make as much advertising money as before. Too bad. Get over yourselves. That's not what The Academy is about. In fact, the mission of The Academy (as stated themselves) is to "advance" the "arts and sciences of motion pictures." It's not to make money, it's not to celebrate popular movies; it's to focus on the arts and sciences, which means to celebrate all of the people who make movies in addition to celebrating those who star in them. The fact that the Academy Awards are still regarded as the premiere, better-than-everything-else top prize in all of cinema is a testament to their legacy and grandiosity. And that means ratings are irrelevant because they matters. People who care still do care, whether they watch or not.
Now heading into the 2022 Academy Awards, the AMPAS has been making every bad decision they possibly could. There are reports that ABC (owned by Disney) has been demanding these changes and bad decisions more than the broad of directors at The Academy. Giving into these demands and going along with idiotic decisions just because it might boost the ratings is where they should stop and ask themselves: what are they doing?! They really should be ashamed. The biggest change for 2022 is dropping live announcements for a number of the technical / short film categories (specifically Animated Short Film, Documentary Short Subject, Film Editing, Live Action Short Film, Makeup & Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, Sound) and editing the winners into the broadcast instead (to save on time). They'll still be in the broadcast, but barely. Thinking that this brash decision will suddenly make people care about the Oscars and tune in is extraordinarily shortsighted and naive. Not only is it upsetting everyone who still cares about the Oscars, it's taking away attention from the very craftspeople that The Academy is supposed to be "advancing" anyway.
Academy, just listen here:
THE KIDS/TEENAGERS DON'T CARE AND WON'T CARE ABOUT YOU.
— Pedro Pires (@9edroPires) March 24, 2022
This decision has already resulted in a massive amount of backlash - there have even been resignations, and members of The Academy leaving because they just don't like seeing their work minimized to a "we can edit it in later." Even though letters have been written, complaints have been filed, the ceremony's producers and AMPAS board have stuck with their plans. They're going ahead with these plans no matter what. Just watch - the ratings will probably be even worse this year. The Academy needs to wake up and realize there is not much they can do, especially with regards to the ceremony's structure or presentation, that will bring these viewers back. It won't happen. They also decided to introduce a rather pathetic (and easy to game) "Oscars Fan Favorite" award and an "Oscars Cheer Moment" - with fans voting on Twitter via #OscarsFanFavorite. Anyone who has ever been on the internet knows that this is not going to end well (see "Boaty McBoatface"). Finally they've been adding non-movie people (read: other major celebrities) to the presentation, with secret plans to bring in Instagram influencers (ughhhh) as well. I'm sorry to be so harsh - but this is all so stupid.
While movie lovers have been asking The Academy for years to add more worthwhile categories like Best Stunts or to rebuild the show so it highlights all the different jobs involved in making movies (they have tried this in the past), they've ignored all of this and have instead continued to become more and more obsessed with popularity and ratings. I always hope that each year they'll finally realize their mistakes and fix what's broken and start focusing on the filmmaking again. But that doesn't seem to be the case. The best decision they've made in recent years has to open up their membership to a more diverse set of craftspeople and filmmakers. There are discussions that have been connecting this new diversity within the membership to the ceremony's declining ratings, with movies like Moonlight making some viewers less interested. Aside from the fact that Moonlight is an exceptional film that deserved to win, this argument just doesn't seem to add up. And ultimately it doesn't matter because if a more diverse membership means movies like Parasite or Moonlight can end up winning Best Picture, then that's better for The Academy and for cinema overall.
Obviously I understand that writing an editorial like this isn't going to have any impact on The Academy nor is it going to make them suddenly realize they were wrong and backtrack on these decisions. But I still need to express frustration anyway. I used to have faith in The Academy, I used to believe they were intelligent and always cared about everything else on top of popularity. But I don't feel that way anymore. I still enjoy the Academy Awards, I always have a good time watching the ceremony (I even enjoyed Soderbergh's funky new format for the 2021 Academy Awards held at Union Station in Los Angeles), and I do believe that most of the nominations do properly represent the best films each year. But they can do better. And doing better means, first and foremost, to stop focusing on popularity and ratings, and return to what matters most - the people who make these movies. Earlier this week, the Cinema Audio Society board of directors issued a stern statement regarding the decision to drop the Best Sound category from the live broadcast (this on top of combining the Sound Editing + Sound Mixing categories into just "Best Sound" a few years back as well):
"Use these last remaining days before their 94th Academy Awards ceremony to choose the bold and courageous path of inclusivity by respecting and presenting all categories live… Reunite yourselves with your membership of '10,000 plus accomplished individuals working in cinema' and reaffirm the stated commitment to 'recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences' by equally celebrating ALL filmmakers in the live telecast, unedited, in front of the full assembly of their peers."
Hear hear. There are rumors The Academy is already preparing to respond after the ceremony this weekend. But who knows what's next. The Oscars have always been a hot topic of debate and discussion. Does the best film ever really win? How many Best Picture winners do people even remember anymore? #OscarsSoWhite. There will always be room for improvement. But it is just one awards show, and while it is THE top prize in Hollywood, it doesn't mean all the losers will be forgotten. As for me, the year Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King swept the show and won 11 Oscars was a historic moment - for me and for Hollywood. My all-time favorite movie not only won Best Picture, it won everything else, and ever since then I've been completely satisfied. Even if my favorite movie of the year doesn't win a single Oscar, it's fine. I don't need to get angry, rant about upsets or snubs, and rage on Twitter. There's enough problems with The Academy to begin with, and if they can fix all these other problems, I'll be happy to see them nominating worthwhile films anyway. Let's continue to celebrate all the filmmakers, every last person involved in making movies. Don't ignore them, and don't push them to the side just to fit in more celebrities and pitifully boost ratings.
Will The Academy learn their lesson from this year? Will they stop focusing on popularity? Will the show have better ratings in 2022? Only time will tell. Ever since 2018 they've been headed in the wrong direction, so I'm not that confident. But I do have hope one day they'll get back on course. One day they'll remember that the Oscars are about celebrating every last person involved in making movies. They deserve this much.