By Dom Cioffi
I have been watching the Academy Awards since I was in grade school — long before there were pre-shows dedicated to the actors’ and actresses’ outfits and long before the event was used as a platform for virtue signaling whatever cause would get the most press the following week.
The annual occasion always worked to celebrate what was considered “the best” in each category. It was a classy affair and always had an air of prestige and importance. Sure, those awkward interchanges between co-presenters have always been part of the equation, but they were mildly distracting at best.
But “The Oscars” has changed over the decades — as it should, in some respects. Every entity must evolve, but they must also maintain the foundational elements that made them special, important, or valuable.
In its most recent incarnations, the Academy Awards appears to be a foreign entity that I can’t come to terms with. I want to like the show, but I don’t. More and more, it feels like an ego-fest where the audience members (who are the people buying the tickets) are merely a means to an end and not a part of the equation.
The Academy should want me involved, they should want me excited, they should want me engaged. But I’m not. And from what I can tell, neither is anyone else.
I used to participate in Oscar pools every year where people would fill out a ballot with their winning guesses in hope of taking home a grand prize or bragging rights. And then on Sunday, you’d camp out in front of the television trying to stay awake late into the night to see who wins the coveted Best Picture award. Sure, the telecast always ran over, but no one really cared because it was live TV and you yearned for the stars to break out of their polished molds and say something endearing while awash with emotion.
On occasion, you might even end up at an Oscar party. For several years, I used to host a small get-together on Oscar night with some close family and friends. It was a low-key affair, but the event was worthy of celebrating, much like the Super Bowl.
I don’t even hear about these pools or parties anymore. And it’s not because people got bored with the idea, it’s because Hollywood has become so self-absorbed that they’ve forgotten that we’re all in this cinematic world with them — and that has caused massive alienation. In the past, we were the ones who determined what films would succeed and who would become a star.
But that’s not the case anymore.
Things really began to change when Harvey Weinstein and Miramax started leveraging his company’s movies around the awards shows. Instead of the annual awards being a celebration, Weinstein turned it into a marketing slugfest by inundating the media with his movies and actors, so the public was virtually brainwashed into thinking a particular film or role was far better than it was.
Just look at “Saving Private Ryan” losing to “Shakespeare in Love” in 1999. The first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” was one of the most profoundly moving scenes in cinematic history and yet it lost Best Picture to a mildly entertaining period rom-com. I saw both films — it wasn’t even close. I remember thinking and feeling that something didn’t seem right; something about that win felt awkward. It didn’t take long before everyone figured out that Weinstein literally bought the Oscar that year.
And then this past Sunday happened.
I was watching the telecast live at home, alone, sitting on my couch, quietly mumbling to myself about how disappointed I was with the horrible editing of the show and how contrived everyone was acting.
And then “it” happened.
By now, everyone has watched or heard about the “slap heard ‘round the world” where Will Smith opted to hit presenter Chris Rock with an open-handed punch after the comedian told a joke that Smith’s wife found offensive. It was related to her medical condition alopecia, which causes hair loss.
I watched the event transpire in realtime and I knew almost immediately that it wasn’t a hoax, simply because of Rock’s reaction directly after the hit. Rock fumbled his words and was in obvious distress, but still managed to keep it together enough to continue with his presentation.
You must hand it to Chris Rock for maintaining his composure. Getting smacked that hard on national television in front of millions of viewers and barely flinching is beyond gutsy. I’ve been slapped in the face before, and it stings; it stings to the point where your eyes well-up with tears whether you want them to or not.
As I’m writing this article, Will Smith has just released a statement with an apology. I’ve read it a couple times and it says exactly what a well-thought-out PR apology would say (I’m confident his people worked very hard to craft it). But the bottom line is that, on the most important night of his life, Will Smith did one of the most obscene things ever witnessed on live television. And in this world, sadly, that will just make you a bigger star.
There’s always a chance something will change, but given the direction things are heading, the Academy Awards and the movie industry aren’t making many new friends or working hard to keep their old ones.
A detached “F” for “The Oscars.” Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.