Magazine reporter Katrina Sproge draws attention to the surprise brought by this year’s Oscars.
It was the year of underdogs at the 95th Academy Awards. For the first time in a while, the winners and nominees of the top awards were not the classically glamorous actors and actresses that have producers eating from the palms of their hands–the faces of luxury perfume brands or Porsche ambassadors. This year’s winners arrived unexpectedly to film critics’ best lists.
In the professional world, the issue of ageism is no secret, but it is even better observed in cinema due to its visual nature. The recent Oscars ceremony presented an alternate universe (à la Everything Everywhere All at Once), where those neglected and scarred by the exclusive and oftentimes careless film industry were rewarded for their struggles and brave attempts at showing Hollywood that they still got the mojo.
The ceremony revolved around the widely beloved Everything Everywhere All At Once, the multi-universe explosion of fun, danger and glitter, directed by the Daniels-duo, who are relatively new to feature films, and led by a cast with Asian backgrounds. The film won a whopping seven awards at the ceremony, including the two most touching wins: Vietnamese actor Ke Huy Quan, whose career started with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and then entered a 20-year-long hiatus, losing his health insurance just a year back, won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the Daniels’ film. In his acceptance speech, the actor thanked his wife “who year after year for 20 years told me that one day, my time will come.” Quan’s breakthrough was a reminder of the cold hard truth of the film business and the difficulties so many actors, especially those of minority backgrounds, face with securing jobs without the right amount of luck, regardless of qualifications.
Patience and diversity were the themes of the night. Michelle Yeoh in the same film was only the second actress of color and the first Asian to win the Best Actress category in Oscar history. Angela Basset, another woman of color, was nominated for her second Academy Award after a 30-year pause for a role in a superhero franchise–a rare feat. Jamie Lee Curtis, known for her fun Hollywood roles, secured her first Oscar win at the age of 64, despite being in the industry for more than 40 years.
The ceremony also saw the comeback of Brendan Fraser, who was the action star for millennials, but gradually disappeared in the background of the new Hollywood up-and-comers. As it would later be revealed, the star had suffered from sexual assault in the industry and mental health issues leading to a rapidly declining career. “There was a facility that I didn’t appreciate at the time – until it stopped,” said Fraser as he accepted the award for Best Actor and recounted his once booming career.
Even the nomination of golden boy Austin Butler for the Best Actor award was met with excitement, mostly due to the unexpected transition from his relatively quiet Disney career to working with the crème de la crème of Hollywood (think Tarantino, Luhrmann, Villeneuve). The actor’s campaign interviews revealed how his late mother was to thank for his entry into the film industry and for overcoming his chronic shyness, adding emotion to his humble persona.
Naatu Naatu from the Indian film RRR, a film similar to Everything Everywhere All At Once in terms of quick-paced action, won the Best Original Song category, the first win for an Indian production in the category.
And to tie it all up in a red and shiny, albeit somewhat depressing ribbon, there was Steven Spielberg who encapsulated the deep struggles and tiny hopes the film industry will grant to those willing to enter in The Fabelmans – a semi-autobiographical story of how Spielberg’s dreams of filmmaking were deeply intertwined with his family dynamics, as he almost gave up his love for the pictures due to his parent’s separation and was failing to get the first foot into the industry.
The ceremony highlighted the pain it takes to gain recognition and respect in the industry, something that is true in many industries but can be easily overlooked in films due to the blinding glitz and glamor of celebrity and cinema.
In the past few years, viewership of the Oscars has shrunk dramatically. The 2021 ceremony saw the lowest ratings in Oscars history – 10.4 million viewers in comparison to 46.33 million in 2000 or 43.7 in 2014. This year, the viewership rose to 18.7 million, which is a notable increase but still a far cry (a hopeless 30 million viewer difference) from what the numbers used to be.
The increase of eight million viewers from last year’s ceremony perhaps signals that audiences are tired of business-as-usual on their screens, of idolized, picture-perfect superstars with million-dollar contracts, that pretentious stardom has become almost offensive in a problem-ridden society, and what people truly crave is humility.
The Academy must keep up with its diversity achievements and widening perspective on what count as audience-worthy stories and who presents them, as do film producers. Let the underdogs in, and we just may see an Oscars and cinema renaissance.
The ceremony highlighted the pain it takes to gain recognition and respect in the industry