Getting to the Oscars is the dream of everyone who’s ever wished to work in entertainment,
It’s been almost three years since the Harvey Weinstein exposé (did you hear? He got a 23-year prison sentence!). When I was young, I always wanted to work in entertainment, and Miramax was the Holy Grail. Learning that this man who I revered so much abused his power in a myriad of ways was terrifying. So I did what I always did, I tried to make sense of it all. How exactly was this man able to hold an entire industry hostage for three decades? My search for answers led me to all ends of the internet.
Then in a stroke of luck (but really, intelligent algorithms), I found the Be Kind and Rewind Youtube channel. The very first video I came across was the titled ‘Harvey Weinstein and the Oscars.’ In this video essay, the Youtuber discussed how Harvey Weinstein refined the art of Oscars Campaigning. From finding out where Oscars voters vacation and setting up screens there to utilizing press relationships. All of these things induced a particular kind of anticipation for Miramax films. Miramax studios created ads specifically for high profile magazines like The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Harvey Weinstein’s effect on the Academy Award process is apparent. What we often declare as ‘Oscars bait’ films, such as period dramas and inspirational movies, were perfected to garner wins by the Miramax Company.
This Youtube channel also discusses how an award isn’t necessarily a pronouncement of someone’s talent or quality of the film. An excellent example is Elizabeth Taylor’s Academy Award win for Butterfield 8. A film about a Manhattan call girl that is in a doomed affair with a married man. The narrative surrounding Elizabeth Taylor was closer to her winning the award rather than the film itself. Butterfield 8 isn’t a good movie. I could argue that’s a bad film. Elizabeth Taylor disparaged the film for the rest of her life. However, the image Elizabeth Taylor took on after filming the movie is what is of great importance.
During the filming of Cleopatra, she contracted pneumonia, which could have killed her. As Be Kind and Rewind is quick to point out, this coincided with the Academy Award voting period. One of the most bankable stars in the world had been on the brink of death. After years of snubs, Elizabeth Taylor got what she wanted: an Oscar.
Be Kind and Rewind focuses on the stars of old, not because of nostalgia. But because in our contemporary times we have somehow convinced ourselves that the machinations of film studios and actresses are a new phenomenon. There have always been ‘just due’ awards. Before Leonardo Dicaprio had to suffer for The Revenant, Geraldine Page suffered an entire career’s worth of Oscar losses. She finally won in 1986 for the film Life is Beautiful in the Best Actress category even though Whoopi Goldberg had a fantastic run that year. Life Is Beautiful was a good movie, but Geraldine was not being awarded for that film in particular; she was being awarded for a lifetime of excellent work.
Insights like these are essential because, as we look back at the best films of 2019, we often think about which films should be awarded in simplistic terms. But awards are never just about the film, the director or the cast and crew. They are a way to leverage the power and gain influence in the industry. They are a pronouncement on what a governing body thinks is valuable. That being said, it’s the audience that can ascribe life to art. After all, The Color Purple is still a beloved film.
The Youtube channel Be Kind and Rewind also hits the apparent failings of these awards – consistently excluding women. Particularly women of color. The refusal to reward films that are challenging rather than safe ones and how these awards encourage a winner take all mindset. The lack of attention and respect that foreign films get is another failure. Foreign language films are less likely to win awards in major categories, creating a bias against them. Truthfully, most winners we see kiss their statues are American and British actors and actresses. This is why Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite Oscar sweep was so satisfying to watch amongst so many people.
On some level, we all know that people in expensive gowns handing out awards is an exercise of vanity and navel-gazing. Yet we still enjoy it because we believe it’s a meritocracy when the truth is murkier than that. The relationship between the Oscars voters and Oscars winners is uncomfortably close. Through discovering this channel, I was able to understand the real importance of taking award seasons with a grain of salt.
Awards are a very narrow arbiter of excellence. And the real power of a film lies with those who watch it with no reservations or motives.
Sometimes, a statue is just that.