OPINION: The Academy Awards lack genuine activism


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The Oscars awards show has faced countless controversies in the past.

Though they were once an unquestionably prestigious awards ceremony adored by just about every moviegoer, the Academy Awards—more popularly known as the Oscars—have increasingly been the subject of controversy in recent years. With the 2020 Oscars reaching yet another record-low viewership count and attracting three million fewer watchers than it did in 2018, Hollywood’s “biggest night of the year” served as little more than an indication of the American film industry’s failure.

The Oscars and other events have become almost synonymous with a handful of systematic issues, the most problematic of which being apparent colorism, called out by “Joker” actor Joaquin Phoenix at the Feb. 2 BAFTAs awards.

“I also feel conflicted—we send a very clear message to people of color that ‘you’re not welcome here,’” Phoenix said during his speech.

According to Variety, the Academy doubled its number of people of color members from 2015 to 2019, but that resulted in a marginal increase of only eight to 16 percent. Among the nine movies nominated for the Oscars’ Best Picture, “Parasite” alone prominently featured characters and actors that were non-white. And while “Parasite” was ultimately granted the award, what should have been a watershed moment for representation felt diluted by the Academy’s underlying agenda to say: “See, we’re not racist.”

Another nominee for Best Picture, “Little Women,” further highlighted the issue of diversity, since it was the only film to be distinctly female-led.

Of course, adding diversity for the lone sake of diversity is always problematic, especially with the presence of technical masterpieces like “1917,” Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and other blockbusters. Still, in other awards categories, it’s ludicrous to think that not a single woman was nominated for Best Director, even with the existence of nominee contender film “Queen & Slim,” which premiered in September and was directed by Melina Matsoukas.

The slight nods that the Academy annually gives non-white, non-male films aren’t enough to justify its history of bias, cast into the spotlight and shamed on social media by hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite. Hollywood and its subsequent movie awards have done very little to make amends, with progressivism often being feigned or preached but never acted on.

The 2020 Oscars never directly addressed its problems with racism and misogyny, unlike the 2018 Oscars where celebrities at least read speeches about the #MeToo and Time’s Up Movements. The Academy Awards are flawed, and while this has been made apparent to the institution itself, there have been no leaps to actually fix anything. If the Oscars hope to slow or halt its decline, it needs to understand that the public wants lasting change, not occasional gestures.