Do the Oscars Matter? How 2020 Has Given Viewers the Power to Choose (And Find Their Niches)

I have always loved movies, thanks to my grandpa and his vast collection of VHS tapes and DVDs, as well as endless recommendations (he also instilled in me the direction to smuggle Twizzlers into the theater in my sweatshirt). I would watch anything and everything he told me to, from On the Waterfront to Titanic to Rocky to Toy Story. As I grew up and finally started understanding those movies, I became utterly obsessed with the Oscars. It felt like a right of passage. Something about the dresses and the films and the flashing lights pulled me in, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still look at the fashion slides on Vogue the next morning.

Luckily I have (mostly) grown out of this. I do still try to watch all the predicted Best Picture nominees and create my list before the Academy makes its own. Something I’ve noticed is as my personal viewing has expanded beyond mainstream movies created to be blockbuster hits starring exclusively megastars, I am getting the list more and more incorrect.

Back in 2015, in the peak of my awards show-loving hysteria, April Reign started the campaign #OscarsSoWhite, calling out the Academy for its all-white nominees in acting categories and the overall lack of diversity in the ceremony. Obviously, 2015 was not the first year that this happened; it was just the first year that the Academy was being publicly called out for it. A study by USC concluded that out of the top 100 highest-grossing films of 2015, 73.7 percent of characters were White, 12.2 percent Black, 5.3 percent Latino, 3.9 percent Asian, and less than 1 percent Middle Eastern, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.  The statistics of female characters, LGBTQ characters and characters with disabilities were quite similar.

Now to get to the point: do the Oscars really matter?

Matter is a relative term as of course, it is a massive, highly-publicized awards ceremony that honors many great films. But in considering those incredible films that get left out every year, should we really be listening to the people who make the films to tell us how good they are?

If 2020 has been good for anything, it has been good for streaming. I have gotten to see so many unique pieces of art that I otherwise wouldn’t have due to school or work or general distractedness, and I am honestly very grateful for that. I have seen a much higher number of foreign films, independent films, films by Black creatives, and films written by women.

One example of a film I might not have caught if this year was not the year of the Netflix Original Film was Uncorked, written and directed by Prentice Penny, who you might know as showrunner of HBO’s Insecure. The film is a simultaneously heartwarming and heart-wrenching story of a young man named Elijah; he dreams of becoming a master sommelier, but his father expects him to succeed him in running the family barbeque business in Memphis. Funny, smart, and well-acted, this movie is completely worth the watch.

If this was a normal year, I would’ve gone to the movies and caught whatever was playing, probably a widely talked about period drama or a biopic. It is not that these types of films don’t have their merits; it’s simply that there is so much more to see.

The Boys in the Band is yet another Netflix Original that may have gotten overlooked, as it is a film adaption of the play of the same name, which originally premiered on Broadway in 1968. It was revived on Broadway in 2018 and again for film in 2020, starring the same 2018 Broadway cast, all of whom are openly gay men. It tells the story of a birthday party in 1968 where nine men get together and things get serious very fast. This deeply personal tale manages to be both viscous and warm at the drop of a hat.

Netflix also released many gripping documentaries. From true crime to deep-sea adventures to a gripping account of the USA gymnasts who survived Larry Nassar’s abuse, there are so many incredible stories that deserve our attention.

If you like it, between Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and the entirety of the internet, I’m sure you can find your niche.

While I couldn’t possibly list all of the daring and inspiring art released this year, I, therefore, declare 2021 the “Year of Finding What We Like and Watching It,” despite what the majority of old white men of the Academy have to say about it.

–Claire Beaver, Content Creator

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