This Sunday sees the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles play host to the shining star of Awards Season – the 89th Academy Awards.
It’s expected that over 30 million people worldwide will watch the ceremony, perhaps hardcore movie fans, perhaps passive it’s-on-anyway viewers, or perhaps those hoping for a bit of Hollywood drama – an actress bawling her eyes out during her acceptance speech or someone pulling the classic bad loser face.
But maybe not. Last year’s ceremony pulled in the lowest viewing figures in eight years, not to mention a storm of controversy over lack of diversity in the nominations list. Are the Oscars losing its relevance?
The 'Oscar Bump'
Scoring the Best Actor gong last year certainly mattered to Leonardo Dicaprio. After years of being overlooked he literally couldn’t have been happier – even in a hot tub of Victoria's Secret models.
While Leo has managed to carve out a pretty decent career sans Oscar, for other actors, the prestige of being an Academy Award winner almost certainly comes with a financial boost (as well as a pat on the back).
The so-called ‘Oscar Bump’ – the idea that winning an award boosts a winner’s pay cheque for future projects – is backed up by research. Film critic Emmanuel Levy, author of All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, once said: “Everybody gets more money; the question is how much.”
The question is also who they are… and what
they are. The Hollywood gender pay-gap is well documented – mostly thanks to Jennifer Lawrence calling it out – but it’s pretty depressing to discover that the ‘Oscar Bump’ is gender biased too. One essay into the subject suggested that while a male actor can get a 213% pay increase after a win, a female will only average a 20% rise. So while the little gold statue undoubtedly looks impressive on a shelf, it has significantly less financial value to a woman than it does to a man.
All publicity is good publicity
If you’re an upcoming dress designer and an A-List actress decides to wear one of your creations to the bash then you’ll be flung into the fashion limelight.
If your film was a barely-seen art house flick that happened to catch the eye of an Academy member, a nomination can drive more people to see your film and increase your box-office profits. Makes sense that more people will want to see it if more people have actually heard of it.
Then there are all the stylists, jewellers, beauticians, hotels, airlines, media outlets and advertisers that are all quids in thanks to the Oscars. In 2015, for example, 12 Years A Slave actress Lupita N’Yongo wore a pearl-encrusted gown worth $150k (pretty awks when it got stolen) so there’s no doubt that it’s big business.
And that’s the absolute crux of it – the Academy Awards are a business. They are a glossy, glittering, gold-statuette wielding money-spinner. According to the Los Angeles Economic Development Council, the Oscars inject $130m into the economy every year.
Although, who exactly are these people?
An event that’s so important to so many people should be representative of all those people right? That’s what the #OscarsSoWhite campaign argued anyway.
The Oscars are voted for by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Academy membership is limited to people working in film production and it’s another depressing statistic but the majority of people working in the film industry are white males – 82% according to a 2015 Director’s Guild of America report.
Which means the awards are basically decided by this demographic. While these guys know their stuff and being recognized by your industry peers is a lovely gold star as an artist, doesn’t identity play a huge part in what draws you into a film? A more diverse panel would almost certainly make more diverse choices.
So fine, they make some people a lot of money, and they certainly matter to a lot of artists. But, for us, the viewers, the value of an award decided by an already over-represented demographic surely has to be questioned. When so much of art is about giving us the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of people whose lives we'll never be able to experience first-hand, there's something questionable about the judges of the quality of that art being a fairly homogenous bunch.