The show must go on: Why the Oscars shouldn't be canceled
Like all good art, film at its best should reflect, or at least soldier through, the essence of the times. That's why recent calls, from a Washington Post op-ed to Twitter chatter, for the Academy to cancel the Oscars — as the country reels from a pandemic that has cost Hollywood millions — miss the mark. The show must go on.
The most common argument against holding the 2021 Oscars (postponed, for now, until April 25) feels more like a judgment than a case, and goes something like this: Amid a drought of major theatrical releases, there simply aren't enough worthy films to choose from. If you subscribe to that idea, you effectively erase every film of 2020 — including exemplary, groundbreaking projects from women (Regina King's One Night in Miami, Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman) and people of color (Lee Isaac Chung's Minari, Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, and more) that have found avenues to make critical headway via unconventional rollouts in a theater-centric industry.
"The list of Oscar-eligible movies is bound to be attenuated," the Post piece argues. But while the number of contenders released in 2020 and early 2021 may not match the onslaught of titles we see in most cycles, it is the core responsibility of the Academy to judge what its peers have produced, not lament the imagined, misguided fantasy of what could have been.
Make no mistake: the Academy has made it clear that it intends to create a path for the artists who've weathered 2020's many storms, expanding this year's number of Best Picture nominees to a hard 10 (versus a sliding scale, as previously dictated by the preferential ballot) as well as temporarily amending the eligibility window through February. And the awards circuit's track record so far — from this year's Emmys, MTV VMAs, and People's Choice Awards — has proven it's possible to adapt a major industry event into a hybrid, part-virtual, part-live that stresses the power and value of entertainment in the home, from music to television, amid a period of prolonged social distance. There's no reason movies can't be recognized for the same reason, just because the machine that makes them has been forced out of its comfort zone to get the product to the people — especially given that, more than ever before, movies have been broadcast directly into our homes not only from the usual suspects (Netflix, Amazon) but by studios (Warner Bros., Disney) evolving to meet the demands of a hungry public largely for the first time as they mount streaming premieres for blockbuster projects.
Canceling the Oscars over a presumed lack of options suggests the existence of an invisible standard, that there's only one "type" of film worthy of prestige attention — often at the expense of marginalized creators whose films find life outside the traditional release model. We've all felt the repeated sting of reality long and hard this year, yet the Academy has a unique opportunity to bite back by uplifting a new class of mavericks — but it must take the time to discover them first.