2023 Academy Awards nominees prove controversial, demonstrate archaic process

This year’s Academy Awards, more commonly known as The Oscars, marks 95 years since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences began awarding artistic and technical merit in the American film industry. Award categories such as Best Picture, Best Actor and Actress and Best Costume Design showcase the best of American filmmaking. This year, the Oscars will be held on March 12 at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood with television host Jimmy Kimmel hosting. However, Kimmel was not the first person considered to host. Comedian Chris Rock reportedly turned down the offer after the drama of last year’s awards show where he was assaulted by actor Will Smith—one of the many controversial moments and decisions surrounding The Oscars.

The nominee selection process for the Oscars is carried out by a committee from the AMPAS. However, the selections are not without their biases and prejudices, according to Composition and Literature of Visual Media teacher Mark Hernandez. He believes that the nominations tend to reward self serving films rather than those that display more cinematic expertise. “They’ve painted themselves into a corner where they often reward pandering,” he said. “The quickest path to an Oscar nomination is just talking about how great film is, and I try to stay away from stories like that, when they seem so obviously designed to get nominated.”

In past years, the Oscars has struggled to nominate films that were widely viewed by the public. This year, however, the Academy may be attempting to address this issue by nominating more mainstream movies. Hernandez believes that this act of nominating more popular movies for the sake of boosting ratings is untrue to the purpose of the awards. “The nominations of ‘Avatar’ and ‘Top Gun’ have really exposed almost a crisis in the Academy,” he said. “It seems like they recognized their pattern of nominating films that no one’s ever seen, and now, to stay relevant, are nominating films everyone has seen—both of which can’t be close to the Best Picture. But it’s not clear to me that more people are going to watch, or that this pandering will make the Academy more relevant.”

As someone who enjoys film, senior Abby Fitzpatrick looks forward to The Oscars each year, but she sees the problem posed by the awarding system. “Even though I really enjoy watching the Oscars, trying to empirically measure the worth of art is oftentimes a bad road to go down,” she said. “All art has value, and people are starting to catch on to the fact that the Oscars isn’t really about whether this film deserves recognition. There’s a lot of identity politics also at play. The Oscars has never been about rewarding art and hard work, it’s mostly been about nepotism and giving acknowledgments and accolades to people who play the Hollywood game right.”

There are many factors that play into the decline of people tuning into the Oscars. According to CNN Business, viewership has decreased from 40 million in 2014 to 9.8 million in 2022. Factors such as Hernandez’s point on the bias behind the nomination of films, Fitzpatrick’s theory that the Oscars don’t truly honor art, as well as the rise of streaming services and the subsequent decrease in people who watch movies in theater have all contributed to this decrease.

Another issue that has been brought up is the role that racial prejudice plays in regards to what films are nominated and awarded. In 2015, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending after all 20 acting nominations that year recognized solely white actors. Junior Rohit Divekar has noticed the prevalence of race in which films get nominations. “(The Academy is) trying to hide it now because it’s not the best image, but there is a lot of racism and xenophobia in the Oscars,” he said. “While it’s gotten better over the years, the Oscars still favors more Eurocentric movies as there’s still a pretty prevalent selectiveness that is not based on qualities that are representative of film such as race.”

While this year has seen a historic number of Asian actors and actresses nominated in films such as “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Turning Red” and “The Whale,” other films and actors seem to have been snubbed of nominations. One issue sparking debate was the fact that there were no Black actors in any leading acting categories or directors nominated. Films led by Black artists such as “The Woman King,” “Till” and “Nope” are not getting proper recognition from the Academy, with many having taken to social media to vocalize their thoughts on Black actors being overlooked. Director Chinonye Chukwu, who directed the 2022 film “Till,” called out Hollywood and the Academy in an Instagram post on January 24. “We live in a world and work in industries that are so aggressively committed to upholding whiteness and perpetuating an unabashed misogyny towards Black women,” she wrote.

In recent years, the Academy has made efforts to diversify its nominee pool. The 11 nominations “Everything Everywhere All at Once” received this year is a significant increase in the number of nominations with Asian American Pacific Islander representation. However, Hernandez still finds the Academy’s irregular nature to come across as forced. “It seems like they are unaware of how racist and sexist they really are,” he said. “A lot of the films that get recognized by the Academy addressing racism are problematic because they’re routinely white savior movies. They have a pattern of applying Band-Aid solutions to these giant wounds that are potentially fatal for the Academy. We’ve got some representation this year with ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once,’ but other than that, there’s not a lot of diversity in this year’s Oscar recognitions.”