‘Posturing, self-indulgence and surreality’

Nepotistic: Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pitt in Ellen DeGeneres’s 2014 selfie.

Have the Oscars become unbearable? Last night, millions of people worldwide watched Hollywood’s biggest spectacle – but critics argue it is a self-congratulating waste of time and money.

The suspense was terrible. But, in the end, Parasite was the first foreign language ever to win the main prize.

The South Korean thriller won four awards in total, including Best Picture, while Sam Mendes’s 1917 took three.

Renée Zellweger won Best Actress for her portrayal of Judy Garland. Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor for his role in The Joker.

And Elton John starred as winner of the Best Original Song for Love Me Again in Rocketman.

The champagne flowed. The red carpet was unrolled. And the film industry’s biggest names descended on Los Angeles to celebrate the Oscars, Hollywood’s most prestigious occasion.

Each year, millions worldwide watch the event, but critics say it is losing touch with its audience. Last night, Telegraph columnist Julie Burchill dismissed the ceremony as a “mélange of woke posturing, self indulgence and surreality”.

The first Academy Awards event in 1929 was a small affair. The whole ceremony lasted just 15 minutes: a ticket set you back only $5 (£3.88). Yesterday’s extravaganza was very different. The ceremony lasted over three hours, costing an incredible $44m (£34m) to put on.

After the gongs were awarded, winners headed to extravagant parties, clutching goodie bags containing everything from chocolate to an Antarctic cruise.

Despite the spectacle, viewers are tuning out. The Oscars recorded its lowest-ever ratings in 2018. In 1930, 65% of Americans went to the movies weekly, compared to only 4% today. In the Netflix era, the Academy must fight to stay relevant.

This is not the only issue. The Oscars has long had a diversity problem, and this year is no different. Only 31% of nominees are women – and this is an all-time high.

Critics accuse the industry of hypocrisy. Despite widespread disdain for figures like Trump amongst insiders, a creature like Harvey Weinstein could hide in plain sight because he had donated to feminist causes, supported Clinton, and given an intern job to Obama’s teenage daughter. Hence, he had been one of the ‘Good Guys’.

“As the importance of cinema dwindles, the self‑importance of the film industry grows. The sight of privileged individuals who had the same chance as everyone else to become doctors, nurses or firefighters, but chose instead to go into a business that is about playing pretend and reaping vast financial rewards for lecturing the rest of us about how to be better people, would be offensive if it wasn’t so funny,” writes Burchill.

Yet Hollywood is trying to move beyond its male, pale and stale image.

The hashtag #oscarssowhite, created in 2015 after all 20 acting nominations were handed to white actors, sounded alarm bells.

So, has the Oscars really become unbearable?

Backslapping

Yes, say some. Winners and hosts may make speeches calling for inclusivity, but it will take more than words to solve Hollywood’s diversity problem. The lack of female nominees shows that, despite the #MeToo movement, Hollywood is not yet committed to equality. The Oscars is little more than an arrogant display of excessive wealth — there is little substance behind the outward appearances.

No, say others. The problem is with the industry and society that produces the films, not with the Academy Awards itself. The Oscars is a celebration of the hard work and talent that goes into creating movies all over the world. The triumph for films like Parasite shows that the Academy is working to transform its image. The wheels of change may take time, but they are beginning to turn.

You Decide

  1. Is film still more important than television?
  2. Should there be a rule that there must be at least one non-white nominee in every Oscars category?

Activities

  1. Would you ever watch the Oscars? Write half a side explaining why you might chose to watch the ceremony or not.
  2. Imagine you had won an award last night. Write the speech that you would have made to the assembled celebrities.

Some People Say...

“It’s white men hiring white men to tell stories about white men.”

Frankie Shaw, American writer, director and actress

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Academy Awards, now in its 92nd year, has grown over time. In 1929, there were just 270 attendees. Today, the ceremony is broadcast live in 225 different countries. It is normal for a female attending to spend $10million (£7.8m) on a dress for the event. It is also generally agreed that the Oscars needs to nominate a more diverse range of actors, directors and films for awards – the Academy has been accused of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Since 1991, only 11.2% of nominees have been non-white.
What do we not know?
Whether the “woke posturing” described by Julie Burchill is indeed a meaningless performance for the cameras, or if the celebrities who speak at the Oscars have a genuine desire for Hollywood to be a more diverse and accepting place. It is also difficult to know why fewer people watch the Oscars than in the past. We do not know if it is because viewers think that the event is irrelevant today, if they cannot relate to its wealthy stars, or if there is another reason altogether.

Word Watch

Oscars
Officially the Academy Awards, the Oscars are awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry, which includes acting, directing, writing, special effects and makeup. They are awarded every year in a ceremony in Los Angeles, California.
Hollywood
A neighbourhood in Los Angeles, California, and home to the American film industry.
Mélange
A mixture of different things or people.
Woke
Alert and aware of injustice in society, especially racism.
Gongs
Awards (in this case an Oscar).
Harvey Weinstein
A very influential American film producer, who is currently on trial for multiple sexual assaults.
Clinton
The 2016 US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who stood against Donald Trump.

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