Oscars Awards: Performative activism and wokeness?

Mar 20 2023.

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The Oscars have always been touted as the pinnacle of cinematic excellence, honouring the best achievements in filmmaking, including performances, directing, writing, and technical categories. It was the ultimate accolade, the crowning achievement for those in the film industry. But for years now the Oscars, some believe,  have been guilty of being the antithesis of this claim, in a bid to project themselves as being socially conscious and inclusive in their approach to selecting nominees and award winners.

The Academy has been accused of performative activism and wokeness for making statements or taking actions that appear to be socially conscious but are, for the most part, cosmetic. Historically, voters were almost exclusively white male. A survey conducted by The Los Angeles Times found that as recently as 2014, 76% of Oscar voters were male and 94% of them were white. The average age of the voters? 63. 

A spate of criticism pertaining to the homogeneity of the voter base - and an accompanying Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trending on social media - led the Academy to diversify its membership, promising to double its number of women and ethnically diverse members. 395 new members were welcomed by the Academy in 2021, with 46% of them being women and 39% being people of colour.

The Academy has also been accused of being engaged in tokenism. Individuals from marginalized groups are included to give the appearance of diversity, without any real intention of addressing systemic inequality, some say.  The Academy's attempts to showcase diversity through the use of quotas or targets may increase the representation of marginalized groups, but are they superficial attempts that do not actually address the root causes of inequality and discrimination within the industry? 

Recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility in the Best Picture category as part of its Academy Aperture 2025 initiative. A move the Academy touted as progressive, but one that cast aspersions on the validity of award shows. For instance, to achieve Standard A (On-Screen Representation, Themes And Narratives), the film must meet ONE of the following criteria:   
A1. Lead or significant supporting actors A2. General ensemble cast and A3. Main storyline/subject matter, had to include members from underrepresented groups and feature themes or narratives centred on underrepresented groups.

Predictably, the standard has left people expressing their frustrations and questioning if the Academy was simply awarding nominees from marginalised communities in order to tick all the right inclusion boxes while overlooking and robbing those truly deserving of the accolade. Twitter user @aehemeter was among many voices on social media adding to the discourse on the topic, tweeting “THEORY:  Hollywood has replaced entertainment with virtue-signalling politically correct lecturing engagements. From award shows, commercials and Oscar Best Picture criteria, it’s no longer about a great story. It’s now indoctrination, groupthink at its finest”.

Ardent cinephile C states that political correctness has always been a part of award shows. “A movie that was universally acknowledged and considered one of the best Hollywood movies was a movie called Taxi Driver featuring Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Taxi Driver was nominated, but the one that won was Rocky. It best exemplified why the Hollywood industry favoured feel-good movies over realistic movies. Both movies went on to become iconic in their own way, but if you ask any film critic what the better movie was, it would be Taxi Driver”. 

C adds that gender and racial inequality have been rife, and in an attempt at being inclusive, the Academy will often pick a female director or Asian director and not a white guy - even though he may be the most deserving - since it's been done so many times. “They (the Academy) also go for the 'flavour of the week'”, C notes. “For example, when Jennifer Lawrence won her first Oscar, I believe the best actress should have gone to the actress in the movie Amore. It was not the most exciting movie, but it was a movie about an old couple. Old age was depicted in a way I had never seen before - Alzheimer’s, physical frailties, and the couple working through that. The performance was excellent. The actress was completely emotionally naked, and I thought that she should have won, but Jennifer Lawrence won”. 

Performative activism on a platform such as the Oscars is not without its benefits. It is a necessary step in raising awareness and starting conversations about social justice issues. However, it is crucial for the Academy to go beyond performative activism under the guise of “wokeness” and take concrete steps to address the systemic issues that prevent marginalized groups from achieving greater representation and opportunities in the industry.

Boodee: "I love the fact that Brandon Fraser won the award as the Best Actor. Marvellous performance and he deserved that. And what a great comeback! Also one of my favourites, Jamie Lee Curtis, won for her role and that’s fabulous. Michelle Yeoh was also fantastic. I love her and her movies in general. The film deserved so many Oscars but one disappointment was my hero who inspired me to be in filmmaking - Steven Spielberg - he was nominated, but he didn’t get anything."

Shani: "What happened to awarding actual talent? It really frustrates me and reminds me of how schools are also now awarding everyone for participation and no one is placed. What are we teaching people? Yes, everyone must have equal opportunities. But how does awarding those from marginalized groups just to tick a few boxes help this cause? What action are they taking to ensure everyone has equal opportunities? I'm more interested in that. It's just ridiculous and downright degrading if we're being honest."

Anaz: "Everything Everywhere All At Once. A brilliant movie that deeply touched important topics."

Tania: "The Whale won for hair and make-up. That made zero sense to me. How can a fat suit win? Since we’re all about being woke now, how about maybe using an actual fat person in the movie? Wakanda Forever deserved this award hands down."

Haren: "I actually stopped watching award shows ages ago. Those who truly deserve to win, don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about inclusivity and opportunities, but isn’t it condescending to award someone because we feel sorry that they belong to an underrepresented group? If I were an awardee in such an instance, I’d have no reason to be proud of an award granted to me out of sympathy."


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rihaab Mowlana

Rihaab Mowlana is the Deputy Features Editor of Life Plus and a journalist with a passion for crafting captivating narratives. Her expertise lies in feature writing, where she brings a commitment to authenticity and a keen eye for unique perspectives. Follow Rihaab on Twitter & Instagram: @rihaabmowlana


1 Comments

  1. Shiran says:

    Oscars have become a joke now. It's quite sad they're pandering to a woke community than awarding actual talent. Compared to back in the day, no one really watches these awards shows anymore. And for good reason!

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