The Academy is playing things too safe

Devin Carter, A&E Writer

Well, that was something.

After one of the most controversial lead-ups to the Oscars ever, the biggest awards ceremony in all of entertainment was capped off with the delivery of an Oscar to what is already being considered one of the worst Best Picture winners ever. The movie I am referring to is Green Book, and director Spike Lee trying to storm out of the ceremony upon hearing its name be called, as well as the countless articles slamming the Academy for its choice, seem to only be the beginning of the outrage. While the general audience seemed somewhat indifferent to the movie, many critics considered it to be a “fake” race-relations movie, and one that evokes the “white savior” stereotype while containing certain elements that make the supposedly anti-racist movie racist itself. In a way, I suppose that it is only fitting for the Academy Awards, which has had such a rough year leading up to the Oscars, to close off the night in this way.

When Green Book was declared the Best Picture winner, I immediately considered viewing it for the Chanticleer. But, alas, I thought to myself, that would require me to actually watch it. And then I considered not watching it, but instead writing a review pretending like I had- sort of like how the Academy votes on which films and which people to award Oscars to without actually seeing all of those movies for themselves. But instead of pretending to know something that I in fact do not, I decided to not review this year’s Best Picture winner. I guess, in that way, I am better than the Academy.

And I’m not joking, The Academy, the group that votes on which people and films to award Oscars to, are infamous for not even seeing all of the movies that are up for the awards. Some individuals certainly do, but what is undoubtedly a large number of them do not. When you consider this fact, it’s a wonder why we even care about their opinions at all. But that is the life of a movie lover. Anybody who is passionate about film wants to see the movies they love and the people who created them recognized and rewarded for their successes. But far too often the Academy seems to go along with the “safe” movie as opposed to one that really challenges us. The examples are extensive, and while I could start listing all of the movies that were robbed of Academy Awards (and I’m sure you could, too), I will instead just focus on two particular occasions, and draw comparisons between them and what we witnessed this past Sunday night.

In 1989, Spike Lee came into the limelight with his masterpiece, Do the Right Thing. The movie, which is mainly about race relations, is an incredible achievement, and for me it’s still the hallmark for movies about race. It’s gritty, it’s violent, and never a “happy” movie, but it leaves us a great deal to think about, and I think it is a movie that everyone should see. And yet it was not even nominated for the Best Picture award that year. In the same year, Driving Miss Daisy achieved Best Picture glory. Like Do the Right Thing, it was a movie about race relations, but it told a far more cheery, lighthearted story. It’s a fine movie, but it’s nowhere near the level of Do the Right Thing in terms of the themes and elements it presents viewers, nor is it as memorable or impactful. It’s been called a race-relations movie for people who do not want to be bothered to think about it much, and that’s exactly what it is. And that is totally fine, but it should not have won the Best Picture Oscar that year.

My next example is when the 2004 film, Crash, won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain. Widely considered quite possibly the worst Best Picture winner of all time, Crash sets out to expose social tensions by basically showing that everyone is racist in some way. Many people ate it up, but some critics suggested that its presentation was sloppy and shallow. Meanwhile, Brokeback Mountain, a film about a homosexual affair between two men, has gone on to become one of the most beloved films of the last decade, despite being passed over by the Academy. Similarly, as with Driving Miss Daisy, the Academy seemed to prefer a “safe” movie about social issues to the one that actually challenged its viewers in deeper ways.

Of course, at the end of the day, the best movie should win the Oscar. If I thought that Driving Miss Daisy and Crash were the best films for their years, I would not be writing this article. In multiple ways, they pale in comparison to the films I have mentioned alongside them. This is not just my opinion, but one of the most-shared opinions regarding Oscar history, and this should have been obvious to the Academy even back when these films first came out.

Racial tensions have been growing a great deal, especially with the state of our current political environment. If there was ever a time for the Academy to recognize a movie that challenged preconceived notions about race, the LGBTQ community, or any other misunderstood group, now was it. And instead, they are being accused of, once again, going with the safer bet. And a lack of options is no excuse- there were several films about race relations that were nominated and praised more passionately than the film that ended up winning. Unfortunately, it appears like history is only repeating itself, and will only continue to do so.

With that being said, I have not seen Green Book, so maybe I will watch it and find it masterful. But with such an incredible backlash against it selection by many knowledgeable people whom I trust and respect, and considering some of the details I have heard about the film and its controversial production history, I am not very confident of that happening. I sincerely hope the Academy can redeem itself, because this controversy on top of all of the other issues it has faced in the past several months have left it looking like a joke.

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