Dear Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,
The Academy Awards officially changed its name this month to The Oscars. But, after watching last night's broadcast, it's clear that the 85-year-old awards need a more than a surface-level overhaul.
To be frank, the Oscars feel increasingly irrelevant every year. But the awards have a major impact on what kind of movies get funding and distribution. The awards show itself provides a powerful platform for performers, with 39 million Americans tuning in for this year's broadcast. Sadly, those 39 million Americans were subjected to a tediously unfunny show that used the ostensible "edginess" of its host to promote the kind of sexism, racism, and homophobia that's all too familiar in Hollywood productions. Good job on recruiting new viewers and then immediately alienating them.
As a group of people who love movies and who believe that pop culture matters, we want to help make the Oscars an event that actually represents Americans' cinematic passions and rewards both important, exciting films and challenging discussions about those films.
With that in mind, we're proposing five things we'd love to see at the 86th annual Oscars. And they're all more meaningful than a name change.
Consider that sexist comedy alienates at least half of the show's intended audience. Everyone who managed to endure Seth MacFarlane's jokes last night deserves an award. As many news outlets have astutely pointed out, a broadcast that should have been about the recognition of talent devolved almost immediately into ugly, juvenile humor. Next year, send a boldface memo to the show writers: No awards show should be a megaphone for jokes whose punch lines boil down to "Ha ha, you're a woman."
Make major efforts to diversify the Academy. Maybe no one behind the scenes realized Seth MacFarlane's jokes were offensive because the Academy is 94 percent white and 77 percent male. The Academy should find these elitist demographics deeply embarrassing and do some major legwork to make sure an actually representative cross-section of film industry professionals are able to vote to decide what are the best films of the year.
Commit to considering more female and non-white filmmakers. Women are making great films every year—but you won't see many of them at the Oscars. Women directed 25 percent of the films chosen for this year's Sundance Film Festival. In contrast, only four women have been nominated for an Academy Award in its entire 85-year run. The statistics are sad when it comes to race, too: Ang Lee is the only non-white person to ever win an award for best director. In the past ten years, no winner in any Oscar acting category has been Latino, Asian-American or Native American. Clearly, the Academy needs to actively work to get outside its white-male bubble.
Treat female actors with the same respect as their male colleagues. Our society has a habit of judging women for their looks rather than their work. The sprawling rise of red-carpet judgments on shows like Fashion Police hasn't helped matters. The Oscars broadcast, however, is one place where it's pretty simple to reinforce that the work of women in all areas of film and film production is as important as that done by men. And pro tip for those who will protest that male actors are just as objectified as female ones: That's not progress.
While you're at it, why not hire a female host? We don't think it's a coincidence that 2013's Golden Globes drew the broadcast's highest ratings in seven years, with the coveted 18-to-49 demographic accounting for a whole lot of those viewers. The fact that the hosts were seasoned veterans of live comedy may have had a lot to do with it, but the fact that they were female comedy writers who don't rely on gender as a punch line undoubtedly had even more.
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