For film buffs and aficionados everywhere, nothing is more exciting than award show season. The glitz and glamor associated with this famous Hollywood tradition has drawn in viewers everywhere, as people tune in from all over the country to see the year’s best actors win a supposedly well-deserved award. Seems like harmless fun, right?
If changing viewing habits from COVID-19 have taught us anything, it is that award shows have become redundant. After all, the average American is most likely not interested in sitting around to watch actors win awards for movies that most people haven’t even seen. COVID-19 only further exacerbated this issue, especially given that movie viewership went down to an all-time low in 2020. Even in 2021, when movie theaters reopened and COVID regulations were much more relaxed, box offices were still down by 81% from levels prior to COVID. With a subsequent increase in the use of streaming services, it seems unlikely that the traditional movie-going experience that we knew and loved before the pandemic will truly ever return. As a result, if we rarely attend theaters anymore, it seems strange and unnecessary to turn on our TVs to watch award shows that showcase them.
Furthermore, the thought of watching the same movie stars walk down the red carpet doesn’t have the same appeal as it once did. Award shows are out of touch and trivial compared to everything else that is going on nowadays, especially in these last two years. Why would we waste our time worrying about which movie star won which award when our time and energy are better spent doing almost anything else?
Interest in awards shows has drastically decreased. For example, take a look at the Golden Globes, which traditionally precede the Oscars and typically predict who that year’s Oscar winners will be. During the 2021 Golden Globes last year, viewership went down by an alarming 62%. This year, the event wasn’t even aired, which has occurred only a few times in its nearly 80-year history. As someone who has consistently watched the Golden Globes every year, I didn’t even notice that they didn’t air this year, which perhaps best demonstrates just how much our attitude has changed towards this pastime. Even the Oscars, which are coming up on March 27th, don’t have the same hype this year as in previous years, which doesn’t come as a surprise.
The heart of the Golden Globes controversy, as well as the reason behind its omission from the TV schedule this year, is the organization’s appalling lack of diversity. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization which runs the Golden Globes, has been battling deep internal issues for many years. The journalists that comprise the organization’s membership and vote for the eventual winners of the awards have long been predominantly white. Even worse, prior to this past year, there was not a single black voting member at the Globes, reflecting the extent to which the organization struggled with racism. The organization went through a long process this past year to reform its practices and make its membership more diverse, but it wasn’t enough for NBC to decide to air the show.
On a much deeper level, however, this example of a lack of diversity also alludes to the systemic racism present in Hollywood. On a nearly regular basis each year, few to no actors of color are nominated, and even fewer win. During the 2020 Oscars, only one person of color out of the 20 nominees in acting categories was nominated. This has been only a slight improvement from the 2015 and 2016 Oscars when there were zero acting nominees of color. Despite some of the excellent performances by non-white actors the Academy nominates each year, they rarely ever consider these movies which results in horrible snubs. While the Oscars and other such award shows often reaffirm their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion principles, they never seem to stay true to their word. It’s as if award shows display some sort of aversion to nominating people of color.
With so few non-white acting nominees each year in award shows, part of the reason is also largely due to the fact that few movies have people of color in their starring roles. While there has been some progress in this area, it has, unfortunately, come quite late. Though people of color represent 40% of the US population, a figure that grows each year, this figure is not properly reflected amongst the percent of people of color in leading roles. As measured by UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report, only 27.6% of lead actors in Hollywood films in 2019 were not white. Thus, while award shows undoubtedly have a diversity problem, the first priority must be to address the underlying issue, which is the racism present at Hollywood’s core.
We often consider award shows to award the best in film but is this really the case? At the end of the day, we need to be wary not to let a small group of Hollywood industry members dictate our definitions of art. By choosing to solely direct our focus toward the movies nominated by the Oscars, Golden Globes, or other critics associations, we choose to ignore other important films made that haven’t been necessarily recognized by awards show committees. It is therefore essential that we remember that art is subjective. If we allow a group of so-called experts to distort our perceptions of what art is, then we lose the value found in our opinions.
With these things in mind, let us then change our habits as moviegoers. We should make an effort to watch movies that reflect the diversity of our country and stray from the conventional genres that will end up being nominated. If we do this, not only will our thoughts be reflected in box office figures, but we will also help influence Hollywood to do better from the comfort of our living room or local theater. That, I think, is what it actually means to be a patron of the arts.