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The Academy & the Oscars: (How) Do They Matter?

The annual host of our Cinematic Arts Oscars Party—and author of this recap—is our own Cinema Safety & Risk Management Coordinator and Adjunct Professor Tyler Welch.

Celebrating the Oscars is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it is certainly true that the Academy Awards consist of an event where the elite and powerful of Hollywood hand golden statues to their friends. Moreover, because of the current cultural situation in the country and because the Academy’s measures taken toward diversity have only just started, it tends to be a rather homogenous grouping of individuals both nominating and receiving the awards.

However, it’s radically important that we understand two things about the Oscars and why they matter. First, the Academy supports film artisanship. The organization does more than just host the annual awards gala. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) helps promote the artisans and technicians who actualize films. Their Margaret Herrick Library preserves the stories of filmmakers from Hollywood’s past in order to inspire the scholars and artists of today. Throughout the year, the Academy hosts events and talks to build understanding and excellence in the technical crafts, and the Oscars might be the one opportunity most people around the country get to learn about the existence of the humans behind the sound, camerawork, visual effects, music, etc. that all come together to make a movie happen.

Now, AMPAS has had issues in the past where they’ve almost undone this focus on artisanship, which would have been the end of the Oscars. Last year (2018) they nearly hid the awards for cinematography, editing, and several other technical categories from the television audience because they thought it wouldn’t be interesting to watch. Frankly, that’s the best part of the ceremony! Of course people want to see who wins the Big 5 (picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay). But viewers also want to learn about crafts and worlds they never knew existed. Learning the difference between sound editing or mixing, or finding new voices in the shorts or documentary categories can be eye-opening for anyone. This is definitely true for me – as a kid growing up in Tennessee, dreaming of making cinematic stories, it was through engaging the Oscars that I learned about film-craft and found my calling. The Oscars present a chance for the artists and dreamers of the world to find a home and feel like they belong, and that alone would be worth the watch.

Second, and the reason that APU hosts an Oscar party each year, the Academy Awards present an opportunity for human bonding. Do the Awards themselves matter terribly much? Speaking as a huge fan of the Academy and of the Oscars themselves, no – they don’t. However, I host a party every year for this because I love getting in a room with people who love movies and who have thoughts, opinions, and lives, and learning about them by talking about movies. That’s the reason we do this – to connect with each other.

This year, we had about 20 people attend our Oscar party, both cinema majors and students from around the university. There was so much food, great trivia, and wonderful conversations about the movies we love. Getting in friendly arguments about who really deserved Best Animated Feature or Best Song, cheering on surprise winners like Hair Love, fanboying out at the official announcement of the opening date for the new Academy Museum (you know where I’ll be on December 14th, 2020!), and celebrating with the nation of South Korea as they went from never having won an Oscar before to four of the biggest prizes, including the first Best Picture for an international film in the 91 year history of the awards. Those are great memories we will take away from this year’s event.

I say all this to promote one thing: enjoy the Oscars. Don’t take them as an objective, overall statement of what really is the best film of the year. View the awards as a chance to learn something new, discover a few new films and artists, and to share quality time fellowshipping with friends. The people in the room with you matter way more than the nominees do. Find the parts you care about most and invest in those categories, but more than anything invest in the friends and family you hang out with as you watch the Academy open a few envelopes. And next year, if you don’t have anything to do come mid-February (assuming they don’t move it up again), come hang out and watch the Oscars with a bunch of cinephiles in the Cinematic Arts Department. Good time, guaranteed.


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