And the Oscar goes to: a film that doesn’t deserve it

Garrett Cook

On Feb. 24, the most prominent faces of the film industry will come together at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles to attend the 91st Academy Awards, a gathering better known as the Oscars. Since 1929, the Oscars have been the “it” ceremony for motion picture awards. Receiving one of the glistening eight-pound golden statues is one of the highest honors a film or person in the industry can receive. But to the disappointment of film lovers and industry professionals alike, the Oscars are awarding on all the wrong reasons.

Whether I am with family or friends, I am known as the guy who knows a lot about movies. Each year when February rolls around, I am asked the same question: “Garrett, who do you think deserves to win Best Picture at the Oscars?” And every year, I give my pick for the award, then explain why my top pick will have no chance at winning even though it is one of the most engaging, fresh and exciting films of the year. This is because the Oscars’ award system is based on the message of films, not the quality or craftsmanship.

The Oscars are supposed to serve as a ceremony celebrating achievements in film. When an awards show like the Academy Awards has so much influence and fame, yet doesn’t award on quality, the best in film are unrecognized, underappreciated and quickly forgotten.

Historically, the highest quality films from a craftsmanship standpoint are almost never recognized. “Citizen Kane,” “Singing in the Rain” and “Brokeback Mountain” are some of the most notable films snubbed by the Oscars over the show’s long history. These types of films are usually small and independent, and often get overlooked at the box office by people who will only see a film if it has the red “Marvel Studios” logo on it. The Oscars are supposed to acclaim the best of film and provide a platform outside of the movie theatres where a film can shine. But sadly, the award ceremony is not serving its purpose.

According to Vanity Fair, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences votes on films based on a ranking system. First, a ballot is sent out with the nominations to all Academy members. Then, the members rank their picks for each category from best to worst. The votes are sent back to the Academy, which then removes the film who received the least amount of votes. The Academy then takes the number of votes given to the crossed out film and gives the votes to the film that has the second least amount of votes. The ballots are sent back and the process is repeated until a winner is chosen. The process is unfair and confusing, but it’s the films that are nominated based on message, not quality, that are the larger problem.

The Academy routinely goes through phases of what type of films they want to nominate. In the early 21st century, the Academy favored Holocaust films and war biopics, but has now turned to films about recognition for minority groups such as women and African Americans. I am certainly not saying that giving much-needed representation to these groups is not important, but instead, I believe that a film shouldn’t just win Best Picture solely because its message is timely.

This year, the superhero film “Black Panther” has become the first in its genre to ever be nominated for Best Picture. The film has earned over $1 billion at the global box office and started a powerful movement and conversation about Black representation in Hollywood. Instead of the stories usually told in “Black film” about hardship and suffering as a result of historic abuse and marginalization, “Black Panther” looks to the future and portrays African Americans as strong, brave and capable of becoming superheroes. The impact of the film is undeniable, but is the film actually Best Picture worthy? I would argue no.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, it does not showcase a fresh enough approach to the superhero genre to justify it being the first film of its kind to be entered into the race for Best Picture. From a film standpoint, it is a good superhero movie, but it is no different in quality than the likes of “Iron Man” or “Wonder Woman,” neither of which were nominated in the Best Picture category in years past. The message of “Black Panther” needs to be heard, but it should not be the sole cause of recognition by the Academy.

With all of the influence and fame the Academy Awards command, they should focus on representing the best of films—not the best messages. If the Oscars won’t do it, then who will? Blockbusters and films with more prominent messages are represented in abundance at the box office and through media coverage, but the smaller, better films in terms of craftsmanship and quality are very rarely recognized.  Let the box office take care of the messages and the blockbusters, and let’s have the most recognizable film awards show actually do its job: award on quality, not message.