While I was on my way to an Oscar® party last Sunday, a friend reminded me that it was “my night” and wished me well. The comment acknowledged my love for the cinema, which I started to develop at age ten. During my freshman year at university, I attended so many movies that I developed personal friendships with most of the theater managers in town, giving me free access to all the movies I attended for four years.
During my tenure as a cinephile, I came to appreciate American movies above all others. I understood the uniqueness of American movies and could easily spot and separate those nuances from foreign films. I also knew the key elements that turned the films into iconic American treasures. On a few occasions, I was even known to win a short-clip film contest where you had to guess a film’s country of origin in a matter of seconds.
This background churned my stomach when a foreign film won Best “American” Picture, revealing that the Oscars® are no longer about America’s best. But what really bothered me was that 1917 did not win Best Picture.
I watch about 100 films a year in the theaters. When comparing 1917 to other films over the past ten years, I can clearly say that it could easily win the best picture of the decade award. Why? Because it was masterfully crafted, pulled the audience into the war with all of its emotional charge, and took us on a journey that changed our perception of war within two hours.
This year’s winner, Parasite, a Korean film, was nothing more than a screwball comedy. The story was crafted like a movie-of-the-week Rom-Com. The film had technical and artistic problems and did not represent the type of film where all departments demonstrated mastery of their craft. I saw way too many flaws on the screen and couldn’t understand how it got nominated.
I was recently asked a couple of important questions. Since America is a diversified country with Korean-Americans, why don’t I consider Parasite an American film? How many Americans need to be involved in a picture for it to be American?
The answer is not as complex as the questions might lead us to believe. The producers admitted it was an international picture when they entered it into the International Film category and won another Oscar® in that category. They knew it was not an American film. In fact, they were quoted numerous times calling it a Korean film.
A few years back, the Academy opened its doors, in the name of diversity, with the hopes that it could change the direction of the American film industry by diversifying the culture. Having raised my family in a diverse culture, I had no problem with the concept. However, the execution was terrible because instead of only letting people into the Academy who had mastered their craft, they let people in solely because of their nationality to quickly balance the number of voters by race.
The end result was a group of individuals in the industry voting for the best picture that hadn’t yet mastered their craft. Instead of the Oscar® being given to the best of the best, the trajectory appears to have awarded politics over excellence.
I believe people are tired of the politics surrounding the awards. In fact, this year’s broadcast saw a hefty group of 5 million viewers drop off from last year. Fans want to learn more about their favorite celebrities and films, not someone’s political opinion who gets a bigger paycheck by aligning their comments to a popular cause.
Fans also want to find out what American films are worth their time. Yes, American films. While there are a few of us that watch international films regularly, most people have a limited amount of time to watch films in the theater and would prefer to watch a well-crafted American film over an international film with subtitles.
If the Academy is transitioning to be a global “best of” organization and is no longer charged with the American film industry, then I’d like to know who is going to step up and help viewers learn about the best America has to offer the cinema. Maybe there needs to be a new organization that is willing to fight to keep the American film culture alive.
Or, if our global film community is strong enough to compete internationally, then a new organization that represents the global best should rise up, rather than converting our American film Academy into a global one.
Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers