The 84th Annual Academy Awards ceremony is over, the awards given, the parties a memory and the clothes back on their hangers. The critics, the reviews, and the responses from over thirty-nine million viewers in the USA and over a billion around the world have all seemed to be shouting in unison.
Mary McNamara, the Los Angeles Times
television critic, captured the spirit of the audience when she wrote "the collective air was surprisingly elegiac, as if the industry truly felt the need to remind itself, and the world, that movies matter."
The evening was certainly an homage to a Hollywood long gone, with a silent film The Artist
leading the charge. In many ways the eventual winners uncannily took us back to a bygone era, with Meryl Streep the Katharine Hepburn of our time, Octavia Spencer our modern day Hattie McDaniel, Jean Dujardin gloriously bringing Rudolph Valentino back to life, and Christopher Plummer filling the shoes of 1930s British film star George Arliss.
The fact is that movies do matter. They are sometimes the first introduction to a culture, a city, a point of view, and are always a mirror of our basic humanity. Feature films reach a global community, yet the Hollywood Academy establishment is missing the mark as the global community invests more and more in their own stories. It is not that movies don't matter, but perhaps the Academy Awards ceremony is no longer relevant.
The creative genius of The Artist
reminded us that the initial success of silent films was their ability to communicate without a language barrier and without borders, which gave a more universal appeal. Social networking and digital media have brought back this initial promise by stripping away our obstacles to communication. There is no denying the fine and stunning work of all the films featured and awarded this year, but today there are far more stories and performances demanding to be recognized.
The United States has always been a global community. The United States 1920 census report recorded that America was home to Native Americans, Asians, Europeans, Latinos, People from the Polar Regions, South Africans and Africans. In 1920s America, in both small towns and large cities across the country, people went to the movies. In 2012 America, our census report has expanded even further to include every culture and religion from around the globe, and all of these people still go to the movies.
If the Academy honestly looks to the past to find its future, it will see that entire portions of humanity have been ignored as if they did not exist, as if they were not relevant. History books are filled with all kinds of excuses for the myopic depiction of the country in Hollywood films. Even the studio owners, who were Jewish, were afraid of featuring their own culture in their own films, but today in 21st century America Hollywood has no excuse and neither does the Academy for continuing their limited acknowledgement of outstanding talent.
What makes America so unique is that within our borders we have a unique and global citizenship that is not at war and there is a place for everyone. Our most sacred law, freedom of speech, gives everyone the freedom to express their voice and opinions.
Hollywood's most special product, feature films, is lagging behind the current wave of powerful stories flowing across the small and mini screens. Cable and broadcast TV have expanded to include a far more diverse depiction of society, and of course there is no end in sight with what YouTube and other digital media will represent. Go out the door and see the diversity of the American audience. There are a wealth of stories in Hollywood's own backyard.
The Academy and the Hollywood establishment, like many businesses across America, have got to stop being afraid of investing in a fully global and diverse America. If the Academy wants to be relevant, then perhaps it needs to see all of us as relevant to it.