The anchoring restrictions of the Academy Awards

Peter Lennon looks at the impact of The Academy's qualification rules on films in theatres

Peter Lennon
24th June 2020
Image Credit: Scarlett Rodriguez at SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the film industry – like the rest of the world – was put on hold, with most films being pushed back to when people may feel more comfortable to attending theatres and cinema chains again.

That doesn’t mean that all films got the same wait-and-see treatment, with animated films Scoob! and Trolls World Tour being released on video-on-demand instead. Due to this backlog, the Academy Awards announced back in April that they’d be temporarily suspending their qualification rules. But should they be there in the first place?

If we weren't currently in the situation that we are, for a film to be considered for nomination, it will have to complete a consecutive seven-day run in a theatre within the Los Angeles county. Needless to say, that’s no small feat for any budding filmmaker, let alone one that doesn’t hold residence in the United States. This immediately raises questions of gatekeeping on a geographical and financial level.

“The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theatre...

Although there are plenty of award shows across the Globe – Bong Joon-Ho recently described the Oscars as “very local” – there is no denying the prestige that even a nomination brings and the momentum that it has anyone’s career moving forward. Joon-Ho’s Parasite (2019) had already solidified its place in mainstream pop culture before it swept the Academy Awards, but the South Korean blockbuster continues to be the exception to the rule. Instead, most other foreign films are relegated to the umbrella ‘International Film’ category.

Bong Joon Ho and Jin Won Han at an event for The Oscars (2020)
Image Credit: IMDB

As international films rarely drive in the masses in North America, filmmakers are reliant on independent cinemas to host their films for the designated amount of time to qualify. Distribution of any kind isn’t a cheap procedure, and therefore securing backing of this kind is a persistent hurdle for any filmmaker without reputable successes.

In a joint statement, Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson declared that “The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theatre […] We recognize the importance of their work being seen and also celebrated, especially now, when audiences appreciate movies more than ever.”

Unfortunately for the Academy, the importance they place on theatres and audiences is misguided. Cinemas are at more risk than ever at facing closure with audiences being unable and/or unwilling to spend hard-earned money on an experience that has become too expensive – particularly with the cheaper streaming service alternative. It feels hypocritical to put down the rising importance of streaming services in cinema – for both audiences and filmmakers looking for creative freedom – when they aren’t more actively supporting the theatre industry.

Cinema is a celebration of life and accolades should be judged on those merits, and not the size of one’s pockets.

I would deeply miss cinemas if they never reopened – I sure know how much I’m missing them now – but the Academy can’t in good conscious think that they’re saving the theatre industry when they won’t let it evolve. No one wants to see cinemas collapse, but it is beyond unreasonable to expect people to support something that’s becoming financially inaccessible for lower classes at what’s becoming outrageous standard rates.

Students at Newcastle have been very conscious in supporting independent cinemas, and Tyneside’s free youth card has helped facilitate that. But not every theatre will be able to provide that sort of relief and so it needs to come from somewhere else.

The Academy may be in a sector of hierarchy, but the restrictions they insist on applying will inevitably hurt the cause that their PR statements suggest they’re fighting for. Cinema is a celebration of life and accolades should be judged on those merits, and not the size of one’s pockets.

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AUTHOR: Peter Lennon
English Literature undergraduate. Although I primarily write for the Courier's Film section, I do love helping out in the Televsion and Gaming sections as well. I also organise and host livestreams/radio shows as FilmSoc's inaugural Head of Radio. Twitter: @PeterLennon79

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