Another year, another Oscar
OK, folks, here it is. The Academy Awards. The absolute top dog of the film industry. After two years of #oscarssowhite, the subsequent #metoo movement and the Academy actively working to expand its voter pool beyond a rolodex of all the old, white men in Hollywood still drawing breath, how did the actual awards shake out? Well, look for yourself and come to your own judgement. Everyone else is. Judgment is so much fun!
"Diversity" and "inclusion" were thrown around a lot at this year's ceremony, and the Academy went out of its way to acknowledge the shortcomings of the industry, but when the little gold statues were handed out, did the film industry live up to its stated progressive goals?
Kind of. Sort of.
The Academy's expanded consciousness did result in some changes. Jordan Peele nabbed the award for Best Original Screenplay, marking the very first time that a person of color has come home with that particular statue. Mexico hit the jackpot, with Coco being named the best animated film and also winning Best Original Song (but, come on, it's a Pixar film; winning awards is kind of their thing), Guillermo del Toro taking home Best Director, and Alejandro Iñárritu receiving a special achievement award (although, once again, winning awards is kind of his thing, too). The Shape of Water became the first sci-fi film to ever win Best Picture, and since the competitor for that award that everyone was outside banking on, Get Out, was a horror film, this year was kind of a landmark for two genres that are traditionally looked down upon by the "serious artists" of Hollywood. We also got treated to the sadly humorous spectacle of Ryan Seacrest being completely humiliated on the red carpet. If you're looking for bright, happy signposts of change, there's plenty to boast about.
But, then again, in spite of all the women and people of color they put on the stage the actual awards are still pretty damn white, and men, once again, dominated the nominations in the unisex categories. Even though the Academy has made some great strides in recognizing more black performers, Hispanic Americans still languish in obscurity, which is weird, considering that Latinos are the largest minority group in the US, and they buy movie tickets at a greater clip than any other ethnic group. (Actually, they have been doing so for years.) Even though The Shape of Water was, ostensibly, "that movie where that lady shockingly humps a fish man", there's a pretty convincing argument to be made that it was actually the safe, middle-of-the-road choice; and it's really easy to argue that the Academy really dropped the ball on the #metoo movement. It wasn't until Frances McDormand exhorted the audience to really recognize all the women out there that the movement really felt like it had any kind of serious teeth on this evening, after she sent everyone rushing to the internet to find out what, exactly, an inclusion rider is. Even then, some random dude stole her award statue while gleefully filming himself doing so, which I find to be the most sadly apt metaphor for how women in the entertainment industry are usually treated.
And, after all the energy exerted, after all the planning by the Academy to ensure that the ceremony looked properly woke, it may end up being the least-watched Oscars in history, which will serve the interests of anyone who has any complaints about this award ceremony, left, right or center.
This is all precisely why I feel you really can't look to this awards ceremony to be on the leading edge of anything. Who wins the awards is largely a function of who gets nominated, which is largely a function of who actually gets the chance to work on major films, which is largely a function of how the studio system functions. You really can't actually, convincingly change how the awards go down without doing the long, hard work of changing how the entire industry functions. We've seen this song and dance before, where the Oscars acted the part of the virtuous industry leader, and nothing much changed in the actual day-to-day operations of the industry.
Which is why, if you're out there looking for real change, you should stop looking to awards shows to accomplish the heavy lifting for you. Real change is played out in many mundane ways behind the scenes. Like, for example, a female-led investor group buying out the assets of Harvey Weinstein's production company. In the long run, I'm pretty sure this will do more to move toward actual equality than any snide comments you could make about the number of women nominated for Best Director (which just to be snide, I will remind you increased by one this year, bringing the number of nominations for female directors this year all the way up to one.)
You'll never get that neon green statue now
Oh boy. The Ivey Awards…
Longtime readers of this column have probably recognized that I've always been solidly on the "meh" side about our local ripoff of the Tony Awards, even when I got to be part of the performance. If you haven't noticed that by now, you really need to work on your reading comprehension skills, since I actually described the 2015 Iveys like this: "The ceremony itself has achieved such a self-consciously slick imitation of other big awards shows that almost anything idiosyncratic to our own community has been professionally sanded smooth as a botoxed forehead." Hell, last year I didn't even bother to attend, and it didn't bother me all that much.
So, it probably won't surprise you (as long as you have worked on those reading comprehension scores) that I am not experiencing the same twinge of sadness that almost everyone else is expressing over the abrupt, unceremonious end of the Ivey Awards. After 13 years of handing out random awards with no fixed categories based on an opaque evaluation process that no one could ever adequately explain, the board of the Ivey Awards voted to ax the whole thing, citing difficulties in raising money to pay for it. They didn't just cancel the 2018 awards; the entire Ivey Awards website was burnt to the ground, leaving only a cinder of a single page of white lettering on a black background explaining the sudden decision. In the end, it came down to money: at an annual cost of $160,000, it just became too difficult to raise the funds to pay for your night of glitz and glamor.
I do understand why the community will feel sad about this turn of events. Over at his Regret-A-Day blog, local performer Sam Landman laid out all the complicated feelings better that I ever could, and I agree with him in saying that my quibbles with the Ivey Awards should take nothing away from the past winners. There have been so many brilliant people recognized for their brilliance that I would never even think of trying to take them down.
My Twin Cities theater people, you deserve so much better than what the Ivey Awards ever delivered to you. Aside from the requisite random Scandahoovian jokes, the actual ceremony was always a bedazzled clone of every other major award show you've ever seen, as if all we were aspiring to do was to ape the motions of New York and LA. It was always missing that certain rough, weird, DIY je ne sais qua that truly makes the Twin Cities theater community its own vital and irreplaceable thing, and not just some little Midwestern province aspiring to copy what them fancy East Coast folks do. And the one unique thing that the awards did—eschewing nominations and standard categories—only served to drastically constrict the number of wonderful artists who could have received even a small bit of recognition, directly contradicting the whole project's stated goals of increasing recognition for the Twin Cities theater community. When you consider that the annual $160,000 price tag means that it cost roughly $13,000 to deliver each single award, it was a pretty expensive and inefficient way to go about doing this whole thing anyway.
I'm not tap dancing on the Iveys' grave. I know that, without some major award program in place, we're going to slip a rung in whatever imagined competition we have going on with other major metropolitan areas; but I also know that we have spent the past 13 years excusing these major shortcomings, because it's fun to have a fancy dress party once a year. We were always selling ourselves short, thinking, "Well, it's not always great, but I don't want to be alone," which is the exact same mode of thinking that traps people in loveless relationships and Midwestern cities into shelling out a billion dollars for a football stadium.
Well, kiddos, I'm sorry to say that your distant boyfriend has left you, and your hometown proud football team has decamped for LA. The worst has now happened, you are left with no major award show, and, you know what? It's really not going to be that bad. In fact, it has made a much needed opening in your life for something better to come along. Without the Ivey Awards sucking up all the oxygen, there is now room for somebody else to come along and do it better. You can have an awards show with an actually transparent system for deciding winners. You can have an awards show that realizes that nominations can turn 12 awards into recognition for 60 different people, even if all of them don't "win". You can have an awards show that knows there is a fundamental difference between a multimillion dollar legacy organization and a scrappy $40,000-a-year startup and that it's terribly unfair to think that the two of them are competing on anything even remotely resembling a level playing field. You can have an awards show that is not afraid to look to other successful models from around the country for inspiration instead of the Tonys (like the Helen Hayes Awards in D.C. or the Jeff Awards in Chicago). Or you can have multiple awards with much less overhead and let them compete with each other to find better, weirder or more fun ways to do it. Or you can have no awards shows at all and just get together and have a big damn party where everyone dresses up fancy and we don't even bother with deciding if anyone is better than anyone else. There are so many other options, and they're all suddenly open to you. I am so excited about what you could do with this opportunity!
That is, as long as you don't get bogged down in feeling like no one will ever love you because this one award show that was never up to your standards anyway ditched you, even after you spent 13 years convincing yourself you could fix it.
So, go forth, Twin Cities, and be better. You're worth it.
If you're still feeling bummed out, here's a few options to help make your day at least a little brighter:
(1) From medium.com: "A Play That's Just All the Special Skills on Actors' Resumes"
(2) Slate's list of past Oscar snubs, which all seem to be about Cannonball Run II
(3) The Lonely Island's rejected song submission for this year's Oscar ceremony, "Why Not Me?".
(4) Weird Al Yankovic's polka medley of songs from Hamilton.
Despite everything else, the world is still a pretty damn amusing place to live.