The annual Academy Awards show is tonight and this year’s show is a show shrouded in controversy. But unlike other years this year’s controversy comes not from people pissing and moaning over the host of the show. Rather this year’s controversy stems from something very real - the lack of diversity in this years nominees. Since the nominees have been announced the #OscarsSoWhite movement has clogged up everyone's social media feeds to a Kardashian type level. But it should all be for naught. Oscar diversity shouldn't matter because the Oscars shouldn't and don't really matter.
The Oscars, like the myriad of other awards shows stuffed down our throats this time of year, are awards for art. Art, by its very nature is subjective. Art holds no universal truths over what’s good or bad. What I like may not be what you like. What you like may not be what your mother likes. That's what's wonderful about film and art in general, different works, no matter how diverse, mean something different to everyone.
There are two films have really changed the course of my adult film making loving life: Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope and Wes Cravens The Last House on The Left. Those two films may mean nothing to you and while A New Hope certainly won its fair share of awards, Last House certainly didn't, and in certain circles is rather reviled.
I love "A New Hope." Once I was old enough to start understanding three act structure and the rising and falling action that needs to take place within said structure, this film became my reference point. As I started dabbling in script writing, as I started falling in love with storytelling, "A New Hope" was the film I would (and still do) refer to when trying to reign in my scripts. If I had a nickle for every time I was writing something and told myself I needed a "Mos Eisley" moment or I needed to focus the action with a "Don't get cocky kid" moment, I could quit my day job. Not to mention sheer perfection of the the "Luke gazing at the suns of Tatooine shot." Deep down I know Lucas cribbed most of Star Wars from Kurosawa films, Tolkien and various other epic legends, but the way he told that story from dialogue to structure is perfection - and it means the world to me.
"Last House" means a lot to me but for totally different reasons. Cravens film was the first film that moved me to the core. It shook me. It was a film I still to this day actually have nightmares about. And yes, the content of the film it certainly controversial, but it's that very content that opened my eyes and showed me what a film can really do. It showed me how a few frames of celluloid can change a person. It's a hard film to watch. It's not a film I revisit on an annual basis, but it's a film I constantly reference when I get to a point while writing where I'm not sure if I should say something or push certain buttons. It threw open the boundaries of self-censorship for me and showed me just how far you could push your art. The Last House on the Left changed me.
"A New Hope" won 6 Academy Awards - none for any of the "sexy" categories. It cleaned up the technical part of the show, with its most high profile award being for John Williams epic score. And "Last House"? The only accolades ever bestowed on that film were having it appear on any number of banned film lists.
To further illustrate my point that art is what you perceive it to be, my favorite film of the last five years is a film called Snowpiercer. Barely released in theaters despite boasting a cast of such bankable stars as Chris "Captain America" Evans, Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton, the film is one of the best made films, regardless of genre, released this century. As an aside, the film didn't top the DreadWorld Top 8 for 2014 simply because it's not a tried and true horror film. It's more Aliens than Alien, if that analogy works for you. I'm not alone in my love of Snowpiercer. The film currently has a rating of 84 from review aggregate service Metacritic. Care to take a guess as to the number of Oscar nominations Snowpiercer received? If you guessed 0, you'd be correct. But the number of statues it was given don't matter to me. The film moved me - and that's what films should do.
One of the greatest acting performances I've ever seen came from Don Cheadle in the HBO bio pic Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault. Released on 1996, directed by ER's Eriq LaSalle and starring Cheadle as the titular character, Rebound tells the true story of New York playground legend Earl Manigault and his, what should have been meteoric rise to basketball super stardom only to have it derailed when Manigault's love for drugs eclipsed his love for basketball. I challenge each one of you to look for the scene from the film where Loretta Devine as Miss Mary picks up Cheadle as Manigault from the police station and Earl turns to Miss Mary apologetically and promises he will be going back to school next semester and this was only a small slip up. Devine looks at Cheadle stone cold and says "Earl, That was three years ago." The look in Cheadles eyes as she says that is enough to bring even largest, toughest, biker dude to tears. And how many mainstream acting awards did Cheadle win for his performance? That's right. None. But it moved me.
The Oscars are big business. It's estimated that for each nomination a film or actor receives in the larger categories studios spend between roughly 10 and 20 million dollars courting voters. Instead of spending what is in essence hundreds of millions of dollars to essentially purchase an award, wouldn't it serve artists better to use those hundred million dollars to make 25 4 million dollar films or 50 2 million dollar films? Right now there are young film makers, writers, and directors who all have a unique voice. They all have something important to say, but there visions are being compromised or not heard at all because the major studios are too interested in gold statues that fostering the next generation of film makers. Wouldn't the minority film making community be better served with larger budgets and more opportunities to make films than a bought and sold award?