Academy Awards®


Several amusing incidents have interrupted the Awards, while more serious issues have also troubled them, including inequalities in gender and minority representation. On a light note, one of the funniest moments came in 1973, when a streaker upstaged David Niven's introduction of Elizabeth Taylor to present the Best Picture Award. Niven got the last laugh by commenting on the man's "showing his shortcomings."

Upon occasion, recipients have refused the award, the first being Dudley Nichols, who declined the honor of his Best Writing, Screenplay Oscar ® for The Informer (1935). He thereby asserted his solidarity with the Writers' Guild, which was involved in a protracted labor dispute with the studios. In 1970 George C. Scott rejected his Oscar ® because of what he termed the "offensive, barbarous, and innately corrupt" process (Holden, p. 60). Perhaps the most famous rejection occurred in 1973, when Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Award for his performance in The Godfather . Not in attendance, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather (a Native American actress, born Maria Cruz) to the podium to denounce America's mistreatment of Native Americans on and off the screen. But the overwhelming majority of nominees embrace the award, even at times mounting aggressive self-promotion campaigns that have cost huge sums. Academy regulations endeavor to "maintain a high degree of fairness and dignity" in its practices.

The most serious critiques of the Academy Awards ® involve charges of sexist and racist practices. Throughout its entire history, as of 2005, no black or female director has ever received an Academy Award ® for Best Director, and only one black director was ever nominated (John Singleton in 1992 for Boyz N the Hood ). In 2002 a milestone occurred when Sidney Poitier received an Honorary Award and three of the ten acting nominations went to African Americans: Halle Berry, for Monster's Ball ; Denzel Washington, for Training Day , and Will Smith, for Ali . Berry and Washington won (his second Oscar ® ; he had been named Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Glory in 1989). Three black actors (Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson for Sounder and Diana Ross for Lady Sings the Blues ) had been nominated in 1972. But until 2002 Sidney Poitier was the only African American to have won a Best Actor Oscar ® (in 1963 for Lilies of the Field ), and only four African Americans had won Supporting Actor Oscars ® . Lack of adequate minority representation in acting and throughout the movie industry led to picketing in 1962 and a call by social activist Reverend Jesse Jackson to boycott the Awards in 1996.

The other serious criticism of the Academy and the industry it represents involves prejudice against women. Only two women have received Best Director nominations (Jane Campion, for The Piano , in 1993, and Sofia Coppola, for Lost in Translation , in 2003) and no woman has ever received the award. Because of the small percentage of women working in the industry—except in acting—the disproportionate male representation for Award nominations and winners is unlikely to change, unless membership in the branches becomes more equitable.

Academy analysts conclude that in some years Awards have been voted for performances or achievements less deserving than a previous year's unrewarded accomplishment. Without question, popularity and politics factor into the voting. And yet, because of the Oscar's ® international prestige, because it means millions in earned income to individuals' careers and films' earnings, and because of the palpable excitement for each year's ceremony, professional and amateur alike will continue to second-guess, handicap, and watch the Awards, often unaware of the Academy's myriad activities. Several other countries have organizations similar to the Academy, which also bestow annual awards. For example, the British Academy of Film and Television votes yearly awards officially called the Orange British Academy Film Award, known colloquially as the BAFTA after its parent organization. The French Motion Picture Academy bestows the César. The People's Republic of China votes the Golden Rooster (first bestowed in 1981, a year of the rooster), and the Italian film industry votes the David di Donatello Award. But there is no organization that carries the prestige of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and no award so important to the film industry as the Oscar ® .

SEE ALSO Festivals ; Prizes and Awards

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (accessed 27 December 2005)

Hayes, R. M. Trick Cinematography: The Oscar ® Special-Effects Movies . Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1986.

Holden, Anthony. Behind the Oscar ® : The Secret History of the Academy Awards ® . New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Levy, Emanuel. All About Oscar ® : The History and Politics of the Academy . New York: Continuum, 2003.

——. Oscar ® Fever: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards ® . New York: Continuum, 2001.

Mapp, Edward. African Americans and the Oscar ® :Seven Decades of Struggle and Achievement . Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2003.

O'Neil, Thomas. Movie Awards: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide to the Oscars ® , Golden Globes, Critics, Guild and Indie Honors . New York: Perigee, 2003.

Osborne, Robert. 75 Years of the Oscar ® : The Official History of the Academy Awards ® . New York: Abbeville Press, 2003.

Peary, Danny. Alternate Oscars ® : One Critic's Defiant Choices for Best Picture, Actor, and Actress—From 1927 to the Present . New York: Delta, 1993.

Diane Carson

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Angel DK
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Feb 2, 2010 @ 8:20 pm
This is the first article I've read (and I've searched quite a bit) that achieves the insight that most articles lack on the Academy. I stopped watching all of these award shows years ago, mostly due to what is mentioned in this article. If I want politics, I'll watch the news or read a newspaper. Today's Hollywood is built on a handful of great actors, mostly mediocre and very bad scripts with too many graphics. It seems like all these graphics and what media considers "sexy" is merely a distraction from bad writing and bad acting. I can't recall the last time I walked out of a movie theatre and actually reflected on the storyline. Avatar is a prime example of a weak script that ripped off so many movies- but the graphics kept the audience. Great distraction Cameron. If this is nominated for Best Picture, than the Academy has hit their all-time low. If I want to watch a great movie with great acting and less distractions, I'll keep to the TMC or AMC channels.

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