Last year's Oscar ceremony had the lowest viewing figures since records began, down 56% on the previous year. Some of that was down to the pandemic and a population that hadn’t been able to go to the cinema in months, but it still sparked big changes for this year’s event. Several categories have been dropped from the TV broadcast to speed things along, and the Academy partnered with Twitter so users can vote for their ‘#OscarsFanFavorite’ and – theoretically – feel involved in the show. It all feels a little desperate for Hollywood’s biggest night. But could powerhouse women offer alternative salvation?
The producers seem to think so, bringing in Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes as the first ever all-female team after two hostless, unfocused years. With experience on-screen and behind the camera (Hall) and in stand-up (Schumer and Sykes), they should feel at home.
This is also a bumper year for female nominees, which might get viewers excited. It looks like Jane Campion will win Best Director for The Power Of The Dog, although she may have thwarted her chances right before Oscar voting closed, with her (as she later termed it) ‘thoughtless comment’ at the Critics Choice Awards (telling tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, ‘You are such marvels, however, you do not play against the guys like I have to’). She apologised the next day.
If the controversy hasn’t derailed her chances, Campion could become the third woman ever to win Best Director and the second in two years, after Chloé Zhao won for Nomadland in 2021. We might even see Campion’s cinematographer, Ari Wegner, win – which would be the first time a woman has won that prize (she’s only the second ever nominated). And just a few years after the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, Will Smith is the Best Actor front runner for King Richard and Ariana DeBose, who is of Puerto Rican and Black ancestry and also openly queer, looks like a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story.
But some argue there are drawbacks in the new, younger pool of Academy voters who have selected these nominees. Veteran industry voters tended to go for big films that the public had seen, like Titanic. There’s been some suggestion that the more idealistic voters, who championed films like Parasite and Nomadland to Best Picture wins, may be alienating TV viewers who never got around to seeing such small films (they’re both excellent, BTW). The worry is that the balance between art and commerce is off – hence that Twitter poll for the #OscarsFanFavourite to acknowledge a box-office champ like Spider-Man: No Way Home.
The problem is that such bolted-on arrangements feel, and look, cynical. People who don’t go to the cinema probably aren’t watching the whole ceremony live anyway, so why not serve actual film fans? TV execs may fret that crowning, say, Joanna Scanlan over Lady Gaga, as the BAFTAs did, attracts fewer headlines, but no one who saw Scanlan in After Love could seriously dispute her win – and Oscar voters should be free to vote with their conscience, not the ratings.
Anyway, nominated stars this year include Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Stewart and Kirsten Dunst, so we’re not short on big names. Actual Beyoncé is performing! As is Billie Eilish! It’s never been about a lack of star power.
If they want to make the Oscars a must-see TV experience, a better approach would be to ban shout-outs in speeches and broadcast on a delay to edit out the endless walks to the stage. A bit more zip and wit could even make the Oscars a hit.