This past Sunday, 23.6 million people tuned in to watch the 92nd Academy Awards, a new record low. Although viewership has been declining for awards shows across the board, it seems to me that skewed Academy membership and their out-of-touch nominations are partially to blame for lack of interest in the show. But with “Parasite” sweeping all the top categories this year, perhaps some much-needed change is in the air.
At this point, the Academy Awards are infamous for the lack of representation in their nominations. It’s already been five years since the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral ahead of the 2015 ceremony, and this year showed little improvement. Only one person of color (Cynthia Erivo) was nominated in the top acting categories, and talented female directors — Greta Gerwig of “Little Women,” Lulu Wang of “The Farewell,” Lorene Scafaria of “Hustlers” — were snubbed in favor of an all-male Best Director nomination slate. It seems that once again the Academy has chosen to let their presenters crack jokes about the lack of representation rather than, I don’t know, choose more diverse nominees.
This really isn’t surprising, though, when you consider who actually makes up the Academy. A measly 32 percent of the Academy are women, and (an absolutely pathetic) 16 percent are people of color. And these numbers are significantly improved from 2015, when the Academy’s president made diversification a priority. Of course a majority white, male voting body is going to view and select films that represent them and their interests.
The conundrum can be summed up by author Stephen King’s thoughts on Oscar diversity, which he tweeted in January: “I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality.” But I would argue that first of all, your identity inherently influences what you consider quality. Just look at the value we place on Greek and Roman (read: white) art versus Asian, African or indigenous art. I can’t recall learning about one single piece of art created by a non-European in grade school, and I had six years of art classes. Of course who you are — your race, your heritage, your gender — is going to influence what type of work you consider “quality.”
And second, it seems to me that diversity is actually an integral part of quality. Martin Scorsese can spend his whole life perfecting the gangster epic and as far as I’m concerned, his movies still won’t be as good as the same movie that features a more diverse cast than four white dudes that pretty much all look the same. Diverse movies tell more interesting stories, they tell more unique stories and they tell stories that speak to more people.
They need to be made — and then they need to be awarded, too. Because despite decreasing viewership and Academy elites arguing that “the Oscars don’t matter,” they do. The types of movies that win Oscars are the types of movies that keep getting made. And even if it is the lowest viewership ever seen, 23 million people is no paltry number. The Oscars have influence on the film industry, they have influence on the people who win them (just see Bong Joon Ho’s adorable reaction to winning one of his Oscars for evidence) and they have influence on the millions of everyday Americans who watch them. “Parasite” won Best Picture, so now more people are going to be introduced to Bong Joon Ho and South Korean films. It’s as simple as that.
I love watching the Oscars. I look forward to it every year, and despite its many flaws, I probably always will. The suspense, the dresses and most of all, my annual mad dash in February to catch up on all the nominated films that I haven’t yet seen — honestly, it just makes me happy. I know the same is true for a lot of people. The ceremony took a big step back this year with its lack of representation in the nominations, but also a step forward with wins like “Parasite” for best picture and Taika Waititi for Best Adapted Screenplay. I hope to see that forward progress continue in the future.