The Oscars and the ultimate prize

 
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Photo credit: Martin Vorel

The Academy Awards or “Oscars” have long been considered the most prestigious film award ceremony in the world. Filmmakers, actors and crew revere the Oscars as the highest accolade in Hollywood, as well as the highly sought-after reputation of being an “Oscar winner.” Fans flock to television sets hoping to see their favourite celebrities win a golden statue in one of 23 categories, and look good on the red carpet as they do so. As Billy Crystal joked at the 2012 Awards ceremony, “nothing takes the sting out of these tough economic times like watching a bunch of millionaires giving golden statues to each other.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, comprised of more than 9900 motion picture professionals, has historically rewarded certain types of films while shunning others. You’re unlikely to see a musical, romantic comedy or summer blockbuster superhero movie amongst the list of winners in the big name categories. Though films like Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” or Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” may be nominated for smaller awards like Best Production Design or Original Screenplay, biopics and arthouse films tend to dominate the headlines and larger awards.

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Mank” were just some of the feature films based on true stories that won Oscars in 2021. Whilst the Best Picture winner “Nomadland” is fictional, it still highlights key messages about economic hardship in the United States by featuring real nomads acting as themselves – and is even loosely based on a non-fiction book documenting the lives of these nomads. The film features three time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand (who beat out Carey Mulligan and Vanessa Kirby for her third award this year) acting alongside the nomads who were featured in the book. Similarly, Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” won Best Original Screenplay and is focused on highlighting issues of inequality and sexual assault perpetrated against women.

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Nomadland. Credit: Searchlight Pictures

The Academy and its awards ceremony has come under fire in recent years for “lacking diversity” in gender, ethnicity and minority groups represented amongst its nominees. Hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite emerged in 2015 and began trending each year during awards season. In response, this year’s 93rd Academy Awards ceremony featured a diverse plethora of winners; including Best Director winner Chloé Zhao, a Chinese-American filmmaker who became the first woman of colour, and only the second woman in history to win the award. Similarly, Yuh-Jung Youn became the first Korean Actor to win an acting award when she claimed victory in the Best Supporting Actress category. Even beyond these winners, the ceremony featured many more diverse nominees, including Steven Yeun and Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), Leslie Odom Jr (“One Night in Miami”), Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”)and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom).

Oscars 2021 also featured speeches by Travon Free (writer and director on Best Live Action Short Film “Two Distant Strangers”) and Regina King (director of “One Night in Miami” which was nominated for three awards) condemning African-American deaths at the hands of law enforcement offers and praising the recent conviction of Derek Chauvin. Indeed, Mia Neal also used her Hair and Makeup Oscar to “break this glass ceiling” and outline her vision for diverse winners in the future.

One of the major controversies of this year’s Oscars was Anthony Hopkin’s performance as a dementia sufferer in “The Father” winning Best Actor. Fans around the world declared Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer in 2020 and was widely tipped to take out the award, was unjustly robbed.

The 2021 awards ceremony has resulted in record-low television ratings, down 58% compared to 2019. Was it due to the lack of instantly recognisable stars within its 23 categories? Could it have been a result of the Covid pandemic’s widespread effect on the film industry? Or are audiences struggling with comprehending the nature of the awards?

Are the Oscars rewarding the best talent in Hollywood or simply filling a diversity quota? Are films nominated due to their impact, or simply to provide a platform for virtue-signaling? As editor for UK based paper The Sun, Dan Wootton notes, “The Oscars used to be fun—the ultimate escapist event. Now it’s all about reminding us just how bad things are in the world and why Hollywood types think they’re far better than the rest of us. Forget Oscars So White, it’s become Oscars So Woke.”

If the Oscars, long-considered the pinnacle of awards, are questioned on their integrity, then what entity can be trusted as providing the ultimate reward?

Winning an Oscar often elicits an emotional response, with some famous speeches even mentioning God. “Thank you God. I can’t be here without your guidance and your protection,” said Daniel Kaluuya, the 2021 winner for Best Supporting Actor. God, however, warned of worshipping physical objects, people or ideas other than Himself. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them,” He said (Exodus 20: 4,5).

Can seeking a golden statue be considered a form of worship? And, if so, is there another reward that is more worthwhile?

God Himself describes a reward, but it’s not given on the basis of political pressure, “woke” culture or a need to be more diverse. This is the “crown of life” that is given by God to “the one who perseveres under trial” and “to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

What sounds like a great physical reward is amplified by what it represents. Crowns are mentioned numerous times in the Bible, often as metaphors for something greater than a golden ornament placed on one’s head. Isaiah mentions “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,” (Isaiah 62:3) while the Apostle Paul talks about the “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:8). While on earth, human nature seemingly has us chasing the next reward, while the Bible describes that God sees us as the prize! And those who chose to get to know Him will receive the ultimate reward—eternity with God in heaven.

While Roberto Benigni ecstatically bounced around on stage at the 1999 Oscars after winning Best Foreign Language Film for “Life is Beautiful”—declaring, “this is a moment of joy and I want to kiss everybody because you are the maker of the joy”—imagine how glorious a day it will be when people from all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds receive more than just a golden statue, but rather eternal life with God. Inequality, lack of diversity and injustice won’t need to be mentioned in speeches as we all live a life free of pain and suffering. How good does that sound!

Daniel Kuberek is a journalist, filmmaker and assistant editor of Signs of the Times. He produced an upcoming independent Christian feature film.