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Except for Michael Bay productions, most films take a village, and that village has feelings too.

The Oscars Mean More Than Just the Dresses

Here’s Lookin’ at You, Key Grip

Except for Michael Bay productions, most films take a village, and that village has feelings too.

By Ben Zhang, Duke University


It’s no secret that watching the Oscars is something of a yearly tradition in the U.S.

Though ratings have been down as of late, the 2016 ceremony drew an audience of well over 30 million viewers. People tune in for a variety of reasons—to see their favorite stars, the dresses of their favorite stars or perhaps the reactions to the dresses of their favorite stars. Most commonly, however, people tune in to complain about the voters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when their favorite film fails to win Best Picture.

Over the years, the Oscars have transformed into a lavish show with ever-higher production values. But, though there are occasionally surprises, such as Jennifer Lawrence’s fall while walking to the stage to accept her award for Best Actress a few years ago, things usually go according to plan.

The favorites in most of the categories will win, and the show will be criticized for a myriad of reasons. Indeed, we have reached a point where a show not getting a lukewarm reception would be a big deal. As an illustration, the label “received mixed reviews” has been assigned to Ellen DeGeneres, Seth McFarlane, Neil Patrick Harris and Chris Rock, all in the past five years.

The Oscars Mean More Than Just the Dresses
Image via Popular Mechanics

Why do so many people dislike the Oscars? One criticism you are guaranteed to hear every year is that the show is far too long. Indeed, there are probably multiple segments of every show that could be cut out without hurting the overall production. Do we really need to see hosts try to sell Girl Scout cookies on national television, for example? And what about all of those commercials? Yet, the most obvious part to downsize is perhaps the one with the most reason to stay the way it is: The large number of awards (twenty-four) that the show hands out.

Sure, there are some valid points to be made regarding the multitude of categories at each ceremony. Do most of the people watching care about who wins Best Live Action Short? Probably not. And it would certainly be possible to hand out the less-notable Academy Awards at a separate ceremony, as is done at the Grammys, and save the headliner Oscars for last. The show could be shorter, everyone would still get their awards and the audience would leave feeling happy. Sounds like a real win-win, no?

Well, maybe not. While it is true that many awards shows are completely gratuitous and unnecessary (think “America’s Got Talent,” which routinely takes a whole hour to announce which half dozen or so acts will advance to the next round), those that deal with the fine arts are inherently different. Many of the awards at the Oscars, Grammys, Emmys and Tonys reward achievements that were carried out not by one person, but by hundreds of them.

The Oscars Mean More Than Just the Dresses
Image via The New York Times

Movies are an especially good example. Few people pay attention to the opening credits of films, and even fewer stick around when the end credits roll around (unless, of course, they are hoping to catch a sneak preview of the next offering from the Stan Lee Cinematic Universe). But, those credits are incredibly important in that they recognize numerous individuals’ countless hours of labor. Many people who work on a film set pour their heart and soul into their job, knowing that their only reward will be their name in tiny font on a rapidly-scrolling list that no one will see.

Sadly, most moviegoers rarely stop to think about the contributions of the key grip or the gaffer (or know who those people are, for that matter). Nor do they comprehend the scale of the projects they are paying money to go see. Even the worst Hollywood films require a tremendous amount of time and effort to pull off (yes, even those made by Adam Sandler). Sure, some movies suffer from lazy filmmaking (looking at you, Michael Bay), and they may even flop spectacularly. But, you can always find hard-working individuals among the laziest of crews, and it would be a disservice to those people to let their contributions go unnoticed.

And what would be the best way to show these long-suffering artists that their work matters, that their efforts have been worth it? Well, that’s where the award shows come in.

On the surface, it may not seem like much to hand out a gold statuette to a cinematographer or an editor. Maybe it bores you when the Tonys showcase the winners for Best Scenic Design in both musicals and plays. Perhaps the thought of the Grammys awarding people who write liner notes for their albums makes you want to boycott music forever.

But, for those receiving the awards, it is often the moment of a lifetime, not an opportunity to change the channel. Those sitting at the back of the room have a chance to win the same award as those sitting in the front, making the Oscars and other award shows quite egalitarian in a sense.

Sure, the reality of life is that the frontman of a band or the director of a movie will always be more notable in the public eye. Still, if we can give those below the line something to strive for, something that will level the playing field just a little bit, why wouldn’t we? Plus, in the process, the sub-assistant to the assistant director, or the aspiring set designer watching at home, may be inspired to keep on working, so that one day, they too could be standing onstage thanking the Academy.

So, maybe it’s time to re-think the way we watch award shows.

Instead of denigrating the various prizes being given out, perhaps we could take the time to understand just what they represent.

Maybe, in the process, we would come to appreciate the work of filmmakers or musicians just a little bit more. Yes, you may have to re-learn the difference between sound editing and sound mixing every year, and sure, the show still may bore you out of your mind. But, always remember that for a lot of people, the night of the Oscars, or any comparable ceremony, is the biggest night of the year. Let’s give these individuals their moment in the sun. It’s only fair, after all.

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