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Award shows: Bop or flop?

By Ava Zardynezhad, April 24 2022—

A few weeks ago, I was finding comfort in rewatching Daria. In the season two episode “Arts ‘N Crass,” when asked to participate in a student poster competition by her arts teacher, Jane says, “I really don’t think artists should compete with each other. See, I believe in a community of creativity.” 

This got me thinking — why is it that we put such value into evaluating art, so much so that we’ve built entire cultural phenomena around it, when art is completely subjective? Every year, around the globe, millions are spent on creating award shows to celebrate the best of art, whether that be film, television, music, you name it. 

Now, there was a time when I would argue that these award shows actually contribute to community-building. They’re basically huge networking events where artists appreciate each others’ work and get to know people in their respective industries. However, with the way award shows are currently laid out, is community-building really achievable? 

Of course, a good argument is never general. So, for the sake of making this argument a good one, I’m going to limit my discussion to film. The Academy Awards is the largest American award show production with a viewership of over 40 million in recent years.

The Oscars are  hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science which is composed of a group of “industry professionals” who get together and decide which one of the abundance of films produced all across the globe over the year, deserves the most praise. 

These professionals include people from all the categories you see presented in the Oscars but also casting directors, producers and other stakeholders and crew members we don’t typically get to see. However, this group, as you might imagine, is quite limited in terms of diversity — being mostly white and male. 

Only recently — as recent as 2020 — has the Academy started including more minorities. In a 2016 interview with the LA Times, former President of the Academy, Frank Pierson said, “I don’t see any reason why the academy should represent the entire American population. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for. We represent the professional filmmakers and if that doesn’t reflect the general population, so be it.”

That sounds fair enough until you start asking the big question — why are the demographics of the film industry so overwhelmingly white and male?

Well, I’m glad you asked. The Academy is not the only group of “professionals” in the film industry to attempt an erasure of minority voices. Let me introduce you to Alice Guy-Blaché, a pioneer in cinema. She was one to attempt many firsts, including being the first female director in the recorded history of cinema. Coincidentally, she also directed A Fool and His Money, a film with an all-Black cast about people who get rich and take over the aristocracy — really makes you think, doesn’t it? I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that male film historians at the time took a big, old white-out to her name and basically wrote her off the history of cinema. 

You see, this whole business is one vicious cycle. At some point, white men started gatekeeping the industry — as they do — and with that power and privilege, they started excluding all minorities from the discussion. Everyone, from the person who decides whether a film gets funded to the person who decides what films get nominated for an award are overwhelmingly white and male. So, how is a woman, a person of colour, anyone who falls outside of that standard supposed to keep up? 

In a New York Times article, A. O. Scott writes, “I recently watched an insightful, timely and at times painfully funny movie about a young African-American actor trying to break into the movies. […] he finds that the available roles are limited and limiting. He can play a slave or a thug, a buffoon or a saint. The filmmakers and casting directors — virtually all of them white — urge him to shuffle and suffer, to clown and strut and in every case to confirm their ideas of what a Black person should be, which is not really a person at all.” 

So, what point am I trying to make here? Well, quite frankly, award shows are a flop for me. You might say, “Ava, you’re generalizing. This is just the history of the Oscars, what about other shows?” and I would say, “hold my chai,” and write you an article per major award show. 

How can an environment where people are selected on biased criteria, by a privileged majority, forced to conform to white standards of what makes “good art” and are robbed of their authenticity to gain eligibility to compete, nurture community-building? If y’all find the answer, shoot me an email

The film industry needs to reflect the general population, in the sense that the people making the films, the people in front of the camera, the people behind the camera, the people whose stories are being told, need to represent the diversity that exists within our North American population.

Film is such a sacred medium in that it provides an immersive experience for viewers, it inspires, it opens up a whole world of possibilities. So why limit the conversations that can be had, why limit the communities that can be forged, why limit the films that can be made?

This article is part of our Opinions section.

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