With no clearer example than this year’s 84th Academy Awards to demonstrate the old guards’ resistance to reflecting the choices of all viewers, millions watched as the Oscars gave a cosmetic nod to – but ultimately ignored – the enormous success of the so-called young adult (YA) franchises. In the same year that the Oscars lost its old partner Kodak, who filed for bankruptcy in the face of the digital onslaught, the biggest awards show of them all showed its bullishness in the face of the change that’s in the air. The clear message? The Oscars and nearly all the serious awards shows may flirt with the younger generation’s viewership, but they couldn’t give a stuff about actually including their film choices.
The 18-34 advertisers’ dream market, if it ever were that fixed, has in fact expanded up and down the age spectrum – and in its tastes. So why aren’t the substantive box-office choices of this fluctuating (and yes, often commercially minded) demographic reflected in prestige awards shows, just as more elitist cinema fare is? Excluding all but one blockbuster a year from serious awards shortlists (which is how it usually plays out), is basically a way of silencing certain voices. The result? Terminally boring telecasts like the one we have all just endured. What does it say about a show billed as the biggest cinematic awards ceremony of the western world, that Angelina Jolie’s right leg became its lasting talking point?
Even the terms, “younger generation” and “young adult” – shorthand for the 18-34 audience – are misnomers. This much-sought-after audience that apparently loves any old fodder as long as it comes with a shiny object, Macdonalds or Subway offer, doesn’t really exist or behave in the way it’s “supposed” to, anymore. Sure, there’s a “strictly kids” corner of the market, but even Pixar and Disney have long since been producing movies that simultaneously appeal to adults. In reality, the 18-34 market has outgrown the tightly segregated formats many TV networks still believe they adhere to, and the same can be said of their movie consumption.
Today, in our fragmented, multimedia age of VOD, Blu-ray, digital download and streaming, viewers in this 18-34 range are now much more discerning and far more capable of enjoying many different types of content on the big screen, TV and other media. Wider recognition of the fact that credible film choices can be made by an audience still largely patronised by critics and awards committees, would go a long way towards ending the elitism that effectively means actors and creatives attached to blockbusters are routinely counted out of prestige awards contention. Much of that is to do with industry snobbishness about the way those blockbusters are marketed, or because a particular “genre” is considered somehow unworthy. But these days the same audience that appreciates the dark joy of Meangirls, the new era Batmans, Donnie Darko, Moneyball, any of the Terminators and other great franchises – are also capable of appreciating the Coen brothers, Cronenberg and Kubrick. That list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but you get the point.
Before anyone mentions Avatar: with the exception of its 2010 Golden Globes wins for “Best Picture” and “Best Director”, its three Academy wins (nominations aside) were tech-centric. What then, about The Lord of the Rings, Hugo, the Alien franchise, or Titanic? The latter was essentially a celluloid interpretation of a very traditional love story which garnered no wins for its lead actors at the Oscars. As for the second installment Aliens, while it was nominated in 7 categories at the 1987 Oscars, it brought home only two wins – both in technical categories. At the time, a lot of patronising noise was made about the fact Sigourney Weaver was nominated for Best Actress in a “sci-fi” movie, a fact which only exposes the ridiculous limitations on what is considered “serious” – and what isn’t. The Lord of the Rings’ across-the-board hauls at the Oscars and various other awards are almost a stand alone exception (although it was pretty much the only blockbuster allowed on the prestige shortlists in the years it was nominated).
At this year’s Academy Awards, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows:Part 2, missed out on wins in the three categories it was nominated in (“Art Direction”, “Visual Effects” and “Make-Up”), and Hugo won only in technicals. It was left to a “Magic of the Movies” montage at the Oscars to pay token tribute to only one franchise – The Twilight Saga. An unprecedented global success story along with the Harry Potter series, both franchises also occupy a bona fide pop-cultural place in cinema history. Considering this year’s Oscars featured a stack of interludes with actors eulogizing about films that inspired them: from Reese Witherspoon raving about fluff rom-com Overboard to a mildly funny mock focus group completely missing the point of The Wizard of Oz: none of the current crop of actors appearing in past, present or forthcoming blockbusters so beloved by younger and – in reality – older audiences made the cut. The shut-out hasn’t gone unnoticed.
In addition to Daniel Radcliffe’s voiced frustrations at the lack of Oscar props for Harry Potter (to date the franchise has grossed over $7 billion worldwide), MTV also noted the lack of youthful presence at this year’s relentlessly nostalgic Oscars, saying they “couldn’t help but notice that for an awards show designed to appeal to all movie fans, three of the most buzz-worthy film franchises of the last decade were mostly left out of the festivities: ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games.’ ” Making it clear that, “this was not a story about the lack of nominations for the films,” MTV’s article did ask why the Oscars hadn’t thought to at least, “involve a few of these noteworthy films’ cast members in the telecast?” MTV also quoted Entertainment Weekly’s senior writer Sara Vilomerson, who said, “I think this year [at the Oscars] is more glaring than most, for sure. Personally, I’m surprised there was not a lot of ‘Potter’ stuff; that was a very lucrative franchise for a lot of people and really critically acclaimed, the last movie. I feel like there was a definite lack of youth. I know in my house, when the ‘Hunger Games’ ad came on, it felt a little more exciting than certain parts of the telecast.”
Hitfix meanwhile, pointedly observed that “of the nine films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, only The Descendants was set entirely in present-day America,” adding that this, “was a year where the Oscars had little interest in what was happening in the world today, and an Oscar telecast that had very little interest in what’s happening in the movies today.” Similarly, the LA Times’ recently published study showed that, “academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect.” Moreover, “Oscar voters have a median age of 62,” and “people younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership.” It is against this sub-cultural backdrop that critical reception to a film starring one of the break-out stars of The Twilight Saga franchise should remind us that critics are not only an integral part of the same industry as the award-givers – but also often share the same values.