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EDITORIAL: Do award shows matter?

Award shows are seemingly catered to the Hollywood elite, leaving viewers in the dust

Jamie Lee Curtis' victory in the Actress in a Supporting Role category of the Oscars sparks discussion over the award show's sincerity.  – Photo by @PopBase / Twitter

The 95th Oscars Award Ceremony was recently held on March 12. And while there is no doubt that this kind of talent recognition is significant for the Hollywood elite and their trophy shelves, what relevance does it serve for the common person as they watch from their significantly less ornate living room?

While one can argue that there was an overwhelming amount of public support for the film "Everything Everywhere All at Once" and universal enthusiasm following its seven Oscar award victories, this feel-good moment was clouded by a general sense of disingenuous pageantry and aristocracy.

For example, there were heated conversations on social media over the supporting actress award going to Jamie Lee Curtis over Stephanie Hsu, who arguably had a bigger role in "Everything Everywhere All at Once." Comments blamed nepotism and racism for this evident award snub.

Given these accusations, the relevance, credibility and sincerity of award shows are all brought into question.

How is the general public supposed to trust that these awards are given to the best performances and best pictures of the year? Well, they simply cannot.

In 2016, it was estimated that approximately $3 million to more than $10 million was spent on lobbying campaigns for Oscar votes by studios. And Oscar voters like to see several factors in the nominated films, most notably if a film has "the narrative of Oscar-worthiness," according to Vox film and culture critic Alissa Wilkinson.

Now, what can this so-called Oscar narrative look like? Well, a personal favorite for voters is the classic underdog story, according to Wilkinson.

No one fits this narrative better than Ke Huy Quan.

His notorious comeback story begins with his childhood stardom in films like "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "The Goonies," which is followed by a long-acting dry spell. Now, at age 51, Quan is on the film world’s biggest stage.

Tearfully, Quan delivered a heart-wrenching speech that went viral with more than 3 million views on YouTube. Quan begins his speech by directly speaking to his mom, exclaiming, "Mom, I just won an Oscar!"

He goes on to say, "This is the American Dream!" And while Quan’s story is undoubtedly admirable and touching, there is also no denying that the average person watching at home will likely not be able to experience this rare rags-to-riches triumph.

As the distance between economic classes in the U.S. has continued to increase, the idea of the American Dream has become more and more elusive. Americans are taught to aspire to their own red carpet moment, but now as they sit at home, it is more realistic to think, "Yeah, all that glamor looks nice and all, but that is never going to be me."

It is important to note that Oscar viewership has generally struggled over the past few years. It took a significant hit in 2021, with only 10.4 million views as compared to the guaranteed minimum of 32 million before 2018.

There could be a number of reasons for this decline, but perhaps the frustration of watching famous people strut in their million-dollar Oscar outfits while people struggle to afford eggs nowadays has finally caught up to typical viewers.

On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge the progress that has taken place.

For one, the success of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is a significant win for Asian American representation in the film industry. And seeing Quan achieve his Hollywood moment is something that should be celebrated, a heartwarming reminder that dreams are possible.

It is just unfortunate that Quan's success story simultaneously and conveniently fits this ideal Oscar narrative that pleases the industry’s elite and makes them feel good about themselves because that is what award shows are all about, right?

Making Hollywood’s most prominent figures feel good about themselves.

The ever-present disconnect between the realities of those in attendance at these award shows and those at home make it increasingly difficult for these Hollywood events to be relevant or relatable to the general public.

The feel-good moments feel manufactured, and films seem to be constructed with a self-serving agenda because of what goes on behind the scenes of spectacles like the Oscars. As a result, the value of award shows is reduced to a mere pat on the back for the winners that can ultimately feed their egos and build their resumes.

But there is hope.

Oscar nominees this year did include films that people actually watched and cared about, including "Top Gun: Maverick," "Avatar: The Way of Water" and "Everything Everywhere All at Once." And Oscar viewership this year was 18.7 million, a significant increase from the past two years.

It is important that the Oscars continue to recognize films that the general public resonates with. But award shows need to earn back the trust of their viewers, and this will probably take a long time.

Ultimately, industries like Hollywood have to unpack deeply rooted and complex problems like favoritism and discrimination, and until they can do this, the general public will struggle to see the value in their trophy shenanigans.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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