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Are the Oscars biased against certain genres?

Written by Culture, Film, Uncategorised

It’s that time of year again where we all lament about the Oscar nominees and give out a collective sigh. Disappointment comes in all forms with the Academy, from snubbing female directors to whitewashing the acting categories.

However, a much wider net is cast over the bias towards particular genres in the coveted Best Picture category. Between Horror and Comedy films to the latest Comic Book blockbuster, some genres just can’t seem to catch a break. But is it all what it really seems?

Ahead of this year’s 92nd Annual Academy Awards, I have taken a look at the past thirty years of the show’s Best Picture category, identifying the trends and gaps in genres to see if this “Oscar Bias” holds true, or just a reactionary response to a personal favourite being snubbed. The most interesting results were produced by Comedy which, despite rarely winning, has a persistent presence over the last three decades. Comedy has produced memorable and prolific winners, such as Forrest Gump (1994) and Chicago (2002), as well as appearing in the nominations consecutively from 1994 to 1998 and from 2002 to 2004.

Looking in contrast to Jojo Rabbit, we can see that Booksmart (2019), which fully embraces its Comedy status while not sacrificing its heart, has been unfairly snubbed.

So, what’s the catch? The catch is that many of these Comedy films are laced with strong dramatic elements that make their generic conventions appear supplementary rather than being the driving force of the film. Whether it’s the sobering depiction of depression in Forrest Gump or the challenging depiction of wartime in the small towns of Nazi Germany – as in this year’s Jojo Rabbit (2019) – there has been a story that the Academy would be able to deem “substantial”, for whatever that may mean. Looking in contrast to Jojo Rabbit, we can see that Booksmart (2019), which fully embraces its Comedy status while not sacrificing its heart, has been unfairly snubbed.

As for Horror – the devil to Comedy’s angel – the bias is much more clearly defined. Perhaps shockingly, there was an eleven-year gap between The Sixth Sense’s nomination in 1999 and Black Swan’s nomination in 2010 in the Best Picture category. Fortunately for Horror fans, they only had to wait seven years for the next nomination – Get Out – in 2017. On a side note, these three films have a downward sliding scale in the number of nominations received: six, five and four, respectively.

Although Horror is often saddled with the reputation for pumping out B and C list films each year, particularly in January and October, a renaissance propelled by American entertainment company A24 highlights the Academy’s refusal to represent Horror as a legitimate genre. Offerings such as The Witch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019) have been underserved despite their critical acclaim and achievements in the film medium.

As for comic books films, the genre appears to be more accepted within the Academy.

As for comic books films, the genre appears to be more accepted within the Academy. Last year famously saw Black Panther (2018) be nominated for Best Picture after campaigns for previously acclaimed films, such as The Dark Knight (2008) and Wonder Woman (2017), were unsuccessful. The Academy notoriously expanded the Best Picture nominations after backlash was received from The Dark Knight’s failure to be nominated. Despite this, the genre is only seeing the fruition of this act a decade later.

Of course, this year’s Joker (2019) has received the most nominations with eleven, including Best Picture and Best Actor. While this will undoubtedly be taken as a win, it’s important to recognise that Joker is not a traditional comic book film. In fact, the depiction of Joker in the film bears little to no resemblance to its source material and origins. Quite frankly, it would be unrecognisable to the source had the names of characters and locations simply been changed. Thus, Joker’s success does not necessarily defeat a genre bias, but rather compromises its identity to win the Academy’s approval.

Last modified: 5th February 2020

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