Arts Opinion: Oscars debacle points to uncertain future for show

The Academy Awards were thrown into chaos after host Kevin Hart stepped down from his position in late December of 2018. Currently, the Oscars face pressure to keep audiences intrigued (courtesy of Creative Commons).

After a six-month period filled with a myriad of botched attempts at reinvention, the world’s most-watched awards show is in trouble as its Feb. 24 ceremony approaches. Simply put: the Oscars are in a state of crisis. 

For the first time since 1989, the awards show will not have an official host. ABC, the network that traditionally airs the ceremony, was unable to find a replacement for what many consider to be the toughest job in show business. In late December, Kevin Hart’s past homophobic tweets led him to step down from the job. Proceeding without a host is a risky endeavor, as the aforementioned 1989 ceremony is widely considered to be the worst in Oscar’s history.

The backlash surrounding the show’s fruitless host search is only its most recent misstep. On Aug. 8, 2018 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new “achievement in popular film” category intended to be included in the 2019 Oscars, according to Vox. 

This new award was meant to honor movies that typically don’t receive nominations for best picture, while simultaneously giving audiences more of a reason to watch the telecast as more widely-seen movies would be honored. 

This award however, was met with a massive amount of backlash as the details of what constitutes a “popular film” were unclear. The award was ill-advised, as it would have served as a Band-Aid on larger issues plaguing the Academy. In addition, placing “popular” movies in their own category, separate from the smaller independent films that the Oscars tend to favor, would’ve denigrated the very films the Academy was attempting to honor. 

As a result of this backlash, the Academy walked back its “Popular Film” category on Sept. 6, 2018, according to Vox. It largely seems that any changes to the Oscars have not been well thought-out or properly communicated.

The haphazard rollout of these proposed Oscar changes proves to be particularly frustrating to Oscar-watchers because the Oscars are still important, despite declining viewership and a frustrating transitionary period. It would be inaccurate to call the ceremony a comprehensive record of film history, yet the Oscars gain value by providing cinephiles and movie-buffs a means to follow the careers of the people involved in movies. 

Consider the outcry that occurs when a seemingly deserving movie gets snubbed of a nomination or when a dark horse candidate manages to bring home a statue; fans track the results and react to the winners year in and year out simply because they care about the results. 

At its core, the Oscars matter more than any other award ceremony not because of any intrinsic importance, but because of the meaning audiences have granted them over the last 91 years.

The decision-makers responsible for the Oscars’ current crisis should keep that lack of inherent meaning in mind as the fiasco that is the 91st Academy Awards ceremony comes to pass. Reinvention for the ceremony is long overdue, but if the Academy wants to maintain the awards’ importance, the show’s changes need to be more carefully considered and better executed. The Oscars are still important for now, but their goodwill is rapidly fading.