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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Oscars 2020: A telling and historic night

With all odds up against it, the 92nd Academy Awards did not entirely fall flat

At its worst, the Oscars can be a pretentious, stodgy ceremony that fails to capture the true essence of film and the arts. It harps every year at its lack of diversity while still refusing to adapt. But at its best, the Oscars can write history –– or at least properly commemorate those who do.

As expected, the 92nd Academy Awards was far from perfect. Janelle Monáe’s opening performance, which celebrated the snubbed films and female directors of the year, perfectly encapsulated the ongoing war between the actual Oscar attendees (including viewers at home) and the members of the Academy.

Year after year, the Oscars find a reason to apologize for its shortcomings. If it isn’t “#OscarsSoWhite,” it’s “congratulations to those men,” that best abbreviates Oscar controversies. And every year, this critique becomes the focus of the evening, which invokes awareness, if anything, for future ceremonies.

Although it is important to challenge what we see lacking at the Oscars, we should recognize that these issues do not start and end at the ceremony. 

In response to the overbearing “whiteness” of Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” film scholar Desiree Garcia made a point to say that the casting of white leads “says more about what it takes to get a movie made in Hollywood than the intentions of the director.” But if the film industry wishes to solve the “#OscarsSoWhite” issue, people of color should be cast in pivotal movie roles. As long as producers continue to enable Eurocentrism in film, the Oscars will always be “so white.” 

Perhaps the biggest letdown of this year’s Oscars was the lack of female best director nominees. In its 92-year history, only five women have been in this category, with one winner, Kathryn Bigelow, back in 2010. Although director Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” received six nominations, Gerwig herself didn’t receive any for her phenomenal adaptation.

There were, however, some redeemable qualities of the night.

Eminem’s performance, though unexpected, was a nice reminder that the Academy has given credit where it was due in the past. “Lose Yourself” is timeless, not only as the first rap song to win an Academy Award, but also as an accurate reflection of the interests and demographics of filmgoers during its time.

Idina Menzel’s performance of “Into the Unknown,” featuring the dubbed voice actress of Elsa, was a nice gesture toward the effort of representation as each performer sang in their native language.

Even James Corden and Rebel Wilson’s nod to the monstrosity that is “Cats” was amusing and showed that Hollywood can make fun of itself at times. We don’t have to pretend it was a decent movie when the cast doesn’t even bother.  

But of all the victories and losses that night, the multiple wins that “Parasite” received –– especially as the first non-English speaking best picture –– was the most astounding. It was clear from Jane Fonda’s pause and subtle smile before announcing the final winner that she was about to read cinematic history.

And as amazing as “Parasite” is, it wasn’t standing uncontested. Films like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “1917” definitely checked off the boxes for quintessential winners. Knowing the Academy, it seemed unlikely that an international film would be awarded anything outside its own category.

Seeing Bong Joon Ho win four major awards in one night, which hasn’t happened since Walt Disney, was astonishing. To commemorate a South Korean film as the best of 2019 shows that cinematic greatness does not exist solely inside Hollywood. “Parasite” is more than just a foreign film –– it’s a fantastic film.

It goes without saying that the Oscars aren’t a testament of brilliance. Plenty of amazing films or actors get brushed under the rug each year. In shedding light on the lack of diversity and inclusivity, hopefully, the Academy and producers will reconsider future decisions. 

The Oscars will never please everyone. But what they do succeed at is making people disappointed and outspoken –– and maybe that’s enough to help mold the future.

Written by: Julietta Bisharyan — jsbisharyan@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie

2 COMMENTS

  1. If you think that the lack of representation at the Oscars is an uppity, academic issue, you just aren’t paying attention.

  2. “perfectly encapsulated the ongoing war between the actual Oscar attendees (including viewers at home) and the members of the Academy.”

    You are making an extraordinary assumption about viewers. Most people don’t give a damn about the forced diversity (or lack thereof) you seek, and you are living in a bubble if you think otherwise (which is pretty standard for anyone in academia).

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