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Among many problems of various kinds – above all: the pandemic, the crisis of the cinema and an increasingly worrying decline in television viewers – the Oscars, whose awards ceremony will be on the night between 27 and 28 March, are also making the you are facing a sort of identity crisis, or at least of direction to take. In short, like he wrote Vox, who organizes the Oscars “cannot decide if they have anything to do with the world or only with the United States”. In other words, he doesn’t seem to be clear about whether it is more right and useful to aim for a big event localwatched all over the world but which mostly concerns the cinema of a single country, the United States, or whether it is better to open up to world cinema, to those who do it and to those who watch it.
It is a question that involves choices between different paths, with relative benefits and disadvantages, due to recent causes and processes but also a consequence of reasoning that already existed when, at the end of the twenties of the twentieth century, the first Oscars were awarded, which were then called Academy Awards only.
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The main fact is that, as Alissa Wilkinson wrote on Vox, the Oscars themselves were created precisely to save Hollywood. At the end of the 1920s, what was already the largest film industry in the world was in fact in a difficult period. Despite the success it had had and the wealth it had generated, Hollywood had had to deal with image problems and was perceived as too licentious and frivolous an industry, something that there was no need to bet too much on. In addition, many Hollywood workers (actors, directors and screenwriters, but also crew members) insisted on better working conditions and the possibility of having their own unions.
On the proposal and initiative of Louis B. Mayer, one of the three founders of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (or MGM), in 1927 the AMPAS, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded, which from 1927 began to award its awards: immediately in the shape of a statuette, but not yet called Oscars. The AMPAS was used by producers to deal with even more contractual force with employees and the Oscars were, in a synthesis offered to Vox by historian David Thomson, “a public relations operation to promote the notion that Hollywood was a wonderful place where fascinating and exciting stories were created.”
In the early years of the Oscars, much of the business was in the United States, and so much of the interest was obviously with the public in that country. Over time, the cinema of the rest of the world also became aware of the Oscars and tried to take part in them. The first foreign film to be nominated for the top prize was, in 1939, The great illusion, a French film (but also performed in German, Russian and English) by Jean Renoir. In 1946 the Swiss film Marie-Louise was the first to win an Oscar, for Best Screenplay. But how little the Oscars cared about the rest of the world is demonstrated by the fact that the award for best foreign film was established only in 1956, and the fact that for many decades that award remained secondary.
The problem is that among the many Oscar categories destined mostly and almost always to award American or at least English-speaking films, the category for the best foreign film, which only from 2020 is called “best international film”, remained a sort of protected enclosure for the other people’s films. It has only happened 12 times in the history of the Oscars that a non-English-language film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
In 2020 the most important Oscar win by the South Korean Parasite it was something historical, in its own way, and it is also remarkable that this year the Japanese film Drive My Car is nominated in four categories – best film, best international film, best director and best non-original screenplay – and the Danish Flee is nominated not only as best international film but also as best documentary and best animated film. Aside from these recent examples, however, the fact remains that, as he wrote Vox“In absolute terms, the majority of the winners were English-language films, many of which were produced in the United States.”
Based on a series of decisions aimed at making the representation of the thousands of professionals who make up the Academy more varied and international, there are those who think that the Oscars are, however, internationalizing, with the aim of becoming American awards. for world cinema. Welcoming in their own way a change that elsewhere seems to have been well underway for some time, with Netflix’s international series and films or with the fact that, also due to the pandemic, revenues outside the United States – especially in China – are becoming increasingly decisive. As he wrote Vox, “In order not to become irrelevant, and perhaps even insolvent, Hollywood must change and expand.” In this sense, the Oscars would only adapt to that change in turn.
Those who see the Oscars as international awards, capable of increasing the fame (and box office) of films that might otherwise struggle in the United States, are opposed, however, by those who believe that they should instead remain faithful to tradition and focus mostly on American cinema: in part to “defend” it, in part to prevent the Oscars from becoming important awards but less and less followed in the United States, the country from which they are broadcast and for which the ceremony is designed.
A number of reasons (including the obvious crisis of the Golden Globes, the only awards that, albeit in their own way, really tried to compete with the Oscars) make the next few years possibly decisive in deciding whether the Oscars will take a risky more international path or whether instead they will try with more determination to return attractive first of all to the United States, perhaps thinking of ceremonies or awards that concern the most viewed films in the United States and not films, perhaps beautiful and celebrated, but little seen. In fact, it is difficult to think that, even with all the possible outline, a significant number of spectators would be interested in a ceremony that rewards films, directors, actors, actresses and various members who have worked on unknown films in about twenty categories.
It is not certain that what would be convenient in Hollywood is the same as what would be convenient at the Academy and the Oscars, and above all it is not clear at the moment what, on balance, would really be more comfortable. Wilkinson, in his article, clearly leans towards a greater internationalization of the Oscars, and writes: «a generation of young spectators who grew up on the internet could be more open to the prospects of global cinema, more attentive to what is happening around the world. And if the Academy is to stay current, and ensure that the ceremony maintains the dominance it has had for nearly a century, it must adapt, and it must do so quickly. “
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