Like many others out there, when I read the list of nominees for the Academy Awards this year, I thought, Well, that was certainly...anticlimactic.
White? Check. Male? Check.
The usual awards season darlings? Obvious check.
There was lots of backlash this year about the nominees, and rightfully so, but lost in the anger about the lack of diversity was something else I noticed.
As I scanned through the names and titles, I started thinking of our hardcore moviegoing fans on Moviepilot. I thought of the fan poll we ran asking our readers to choose the best movies of 2014 and the films our readers loved most this past year.
Academy Awards nominees. Our fan poll.
What a disconnect between the two, I realized: Man, the Oscars give such little love to the movies that young moviegoers care about.
I mean, we already know the Academy is out of touch with modern day audiences and the vast majority of moviegoers. It's been a long, long time since a popular blockbuster has gotten more than a cursory nod from the Academy, and those nods virtually never come in the categories of acting, directing, or screenwriting. Pop culture is just not something Academy voters seem to acknowledge or embrace.
But remember when Back to the Future got nominated for Best Original Screenplay? And Raiders of the Lost Ark landed four Oscar wins out of a possible nine categories including Best Director and Best Picture? No?
The point is, it wasn't always like this. There was a time when Academy voters clearly held blockbusters in higher regard than they do now, when the pop culture phenomena embraced by audiences were also embraced by the Oscars. But for the past few years, the growing divide between what does well at the box office - i.e. what audiences like - and how many Oscar nominations it gets - i.e. what the Academy likes - has become ever more pronounced.
See that chart up above? If you're not a graph kind of person, what it means is that year after year, the top five most successful movies at the box office are getting nominated for fewer and fewer Oscars.
While some lament that Hollywood "just doesn't make 'em like they used to," that doesn't really hold water. Oh, studios definitely churn out mediocre-to-awful movies, but the smart studios are also realizing that giving audiences a quality product is what will keep them coming back, even if it's in the summer blockbusters and geek culture-based movies the Academy tends to shun. [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073) and [Kingsman: The Secret Service](movie:713143), for example, are proof enough of that.
No, the real reason for the growing distance between the Oscars and pop culture is that, well...the Academy is too white, too male, too old. Harsh? Possibly. But numbers don't lie. In 2012, the LA Times conducted a study that broke down the demographics of the Academy Awards voters and found that 77% of the Academy was male and a whopping 94% was white. The median age was 62 years old.
Sorry, Academy voters. When you're 62 years old, you are, by default, out of touch with pop culture. The current zeitgeist shifts and changes without you being aware. You're out of touch with what makes audiences tick.
Just how far away is the makeup of the Academy from who is actually going to movies? Another study done by the MPAA in 2013 broke it down. It found that a full 70% of moviegoers were under the age of 40 and only 10% over the age of 60.
Compounding the growing disconnect between the Academy and pop culture is how few members of the Academy are still actively working in film. The Times study also found that less than half of Academy members had a film credit within the last decade. I don't know about you, but I found that jaw-dropping.
The Academy may not be paying attention, but movie watchers are, and they can tell you that the movie industry and modern audiences have changed tremendously in the past ten years. Yet, the majority of voters who make the decisions about what constitutes the "best" films of every year (so by implication, the movies that "matter") are ones who have, over the last decade, become more and more removed from the actual business of making modern movies and connecting with modern audiences.
And we're seeing the logical consequence of it. The Oscars have become not so much an opportunity for the public to join in celebrating the best and brightest of the film industry, but a solipsistic and exclusive circle jerk that is largely disconnected from the very public that pays to keep the industry spinning.
Is it any wonder that the ratings for the Oscars have been steadily dropping over the past few decades?
Really, why should the vast majority of audiences still care about the Oscars, particularly in the younger demographic? Why do they still matter? Do they still even matter?
The early predictions are that viewership for this year's Oscars show will be down - possibly way down, and if anyone is shocked by that, then they haven't been paying attention. If fewer and fewer people see the movies that are nominated in the awards categories that audiences actually care about, why would they tune in? The answer is that they wouldn't and won't.
This year, I will be watching the Oscars - naturally. I'm the editor-in-chief of a movie and TV website. So I'll be watching. I'll be live-tweeting (but hopefully not getting thrown in Twitter jail). I'll be taking notes. But I won't be very emotionally invested - there won't be any surprises, nothing that we didn't already see coming, nothing that could be considered a real "upset".
You know what? If I weren't in this industry, I probably wouldn't watch at all. I'd not invest my time. I'd just wait for a website to compile the list of winners and, if social media happened to buzz about a particularly moving or interesting acceptance speech, I might find a video and watch. But that's it.
And this is my industry.
So consider how much less relatable the Academy Awards must be to your average young moviegoer. The 15-year-old girl who lives and breathes all things Marvel, the 20-year-old college junior who wants to be a comedy writer because of Judd Apatow, the 17-year-old kid who is first in line for every horror movie: these aren't the exceptions to the younger generation, but the norm. But virtually nowhere in the Oscars ceremony will you find any of what they love and care about.
If the divide between the Academy voters and modern audiences, between "popcorn flicks" and "awards season" movies continues to grow (and from all indicators it will), ratings will continue to decline. Perhaps it's time for the Academy to finally leap into the new millennium and rejoin greater humanity. Time for it to rekindle a love for the popular movies it used to embrace.
Because if not, in another ten years the question will be: Is there anyone still watching at all?