This year’s awards season has once again been plagued with controversy from the start. Despite the clear on-the-night diversity endeavour (the performance of Frozen II’s nominated piece, ‘Into The Unknown’, featuring the voice actors from versions of the film around the world was certainly a special highlight), the inescapable truth was that The Academy failed in the eyes of many to recognise art produced by a wide spectrum of filmmakers; women and BAME communities suffered chiefly.
Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais’ hit-and-miss attempt to prove that Hollywood has not evolved much since the last time he presented back in 2016 – nearly a year before the Harvey Weinstein abuse reports broke – saw some jokes land with cold apprehension; a particularly striking gag regarding Leonardo DiCaprio’s taste for younger women being “his thing” came in the same sentence as a stab at Prince Andrew’s alleged indiscretions with Jeffrey Epstein.
Enjoy his PC-subversive humour or not, Gervais’ take on Hollywood’s climate is not without its merit. Indeed, it does not appear as if the establishment has come very far since his last appearance at the Golden Globes – heck Hollywood and its coinciding awards institutions have barely changed in the last decade, despite evolving somewhat with attempts to make voting based on a more balanced scope.
In 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to take the Best Director award at the Academy Awards for her turn in The Hurt Locker. Only five women have been nominated for the award ever. However, this year saw Parasite – the 12th international feature film (labelled “Foreign Language Film” prior to 2020) to be nominated for Best Picture – sweep the Oscars with four total wins, and the first international feature film in the Academy’s 92-year history to win the Best Picture award.
Representation matters so much in film and its accolades, and there’s no better summation of its importance than the one provided by classic psychoanalytic and film theorist Jacques Lacan, who postulated the concept of the mirror stage of development and its correspondence with the shaping of identity as crucial in cinema. In his argument, Lacan identifies that infants recognise their own likeness in a mirror, which acts as the first step towards seeing themselves as a complete, integrated being. This can have a huge impact on the ways in which people view themselves and consequently establish an identity, and though Lacan believes no-one can be completely integrated, nor a fully accomplished “whole” being, it is critical that all human beings are represented and mirrored in wider society to reinforce this essence of personal individuality in a collective society.
For this reason, it’s crucial that people see themselves, or an identity associated with their personal distinguishment, paralleled in popular culture. Identities are shaped by what people see in film, television, sport, and other areas of the public forum. The identity that the awards institutions have made for themselves is one of cultural negligence and ignorance, and this year’s ceremonies further perpetuated the perfunctory nature of the Academy et al. in their efforts to diversify. As one example of such nescience, the BAFTAs this year delivered an all-male directing and best film shortlist, while there were absolutely no nominations in the acting categories for BAME actors.
Female Oscar voters are currently put at around 28 per cent of the overall demographic, while BAME voters are at a meagre 13 per cent. Compare this to the LA Times’s study of 2012, which uncovered that 94 per cent of Oscars voters were white and 77 per cent were male, and what becomes apparent is a rather disinclined effort to shift the entrenched, systematic privilege that white males have in Hollywood.
It is undeniable that strong, constructive representations can play a massive role in the fight to break down stereotypes in society that can be detrimental to individuals and peoples. It shouldn’t be down to the stars accepting the awards to advocate for young people of heterogeneous backgrounds to take up an interest in filmmaking; it ought to be encouraged in the art that is produced, made accessible and finally commended by Hollywood.
But change needs to stem from a deeper place within Hollywood; the awards institutions cannot be entirely blamed for the lack of diversity as not enough projects are being funded, submitted and consequently campaigned for in the first place. Shockingly, only 13 per cent of the 250 top-grossing Hollywood films of 2019 were directed by women, as outlined in a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, signifying a clear, prolonged problem within the film industry of allowing women the chance to direct features that have the capability to succeed in the wider market.
This issue is further extrapolated by BAFTA’s revelation that, of the films submitted this year, only 19 per cent of them were directed by women. Awards campaigns themselves are led by specialists who are specifically hired to give a film the exposure necessary within the industry to succeed at the likes of the BAFTAs, though the process is much more fervent and expensive at the Oscars (some insiders claim that Netflix spent somewhere in the region of $20 million on their Oscars campaign).
Efforts have certainly been made in recent years to widen the span of films up for awards, and the significance of Parasite’s big wins should not be ignored. But is it really enough when so many other projects, such as Lulu Wang’s marvellous The Farewell which boasts a $20 million global box office take on just a $3 million budget, are completely snubbed? Of course, the quality of a film is not dictated by its box office success, but an isolated incident as this in combination with the general consensus on the lack of diversity at the awards indicates a perceptible reluctance to break the path set out by the convention of this century-long history of film award.
So was this year’s awards season a big turning point for Hollywood? The short answer, no. Drastic change is vital now to ensure the growth of a divergent pathway forward for modern cinema, one which recognises the achievements of a person or peoples regardless of reputation, class, ethnicity, gender or previous accolades (all of the supporting actor nominations at the Oscars this year were previous winners, albeit Brad Pitt’s prior win came in the form of Best Picture for his work in 12 Years a Slave). It may look like things are improving, but long-standing, centralised tradition still dominates this playing field.
Feature Image: Pexels