Oscars: The Art and The Artist

The Academy's selection of nominees this year says a lot about where we are as a culture.

The+list+of+nominees+for+this+year%27s+Oscars+demonstrates+the+shortcomings+of+the+Academy.+

image edited from oscar.go.com

The list of nominees for this year's Oscars demonstrates the shortcomings of the Academy.

By Jonathan Ross, North Allegheny Senior High School

With the Oscars only a week away, Twitter is abuzz with opinions–both valid and fallacious–on the various awards and nominations, and celebrities are no exception. Last Thursday, Stephen King tweeted that he would “never consider diversity in matters of art.” This, of course, garnered national attention from the tabloids, receiving criticisms of insensitivity and even racism. And while these allegations were perhaps exaggerated and reactionary, they did raise a question: can you actually separate art from the artist?

Usually, “separating art from the artist” serves as a defense for the disproportionate number of white Oscar nominations. This particular year, however, it’s apt in more than one way; and it’s an important reason why Once Upon a Time in Hollywood shouldn’t win the award for Best Picture.

I have nothing against the movie itself–it was actually quite watchable. The performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt were stellar, the cinematography was smooth and visually pleasing, and the ending was a classic Tarantino twist on Charles Manson’s infamous 1968 murders. The movie did, however, run long, clocking in at two hours and forty-five minutes, detracting from the aforementioned plusses. The plot, though an homage to spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, can come across as slow and without purpose. 

The Academy needs to better recognize films outside of Hollywood and its white actors and directors.”

These widespread criticisms suggest that, without its acclaimed director, the film may not have received the same level of accolades. This is why the logic behind many critics’ support of the movie is inherently flawed, with multiple outlets, including Variety, reporting that Quentin Tarantino’s service to the film industry deserves the award, rather than this particular movie. I entirely recognize the quality and importance of Tarantino’s directing, and Pulp Fiction is a personal favorite. With that said, there’s a separate award of Best Director for a reason: to separate art from the artist.

What’s more, my personal choice for Best Picture was none other than Parasite, the only foreign film nominated this year. The movie is the first Asian film to receive the nomination since 2001, with the nomination of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is, quite simply, a modern masterpiece. The screenplay is the perfect combination of humor, horror, and a surprisingly deep statement about dignity and class. The cinematography is breathtaking, gently guiding viewers to a deeper meaning–a particularly poignant example being the mixing of heavy, viscous blood with a sweet and clear plum extract. Bong Joon Ho’s directing was masterful, and the performances of the ensemble cast were incredible. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood doesn’t deserve the Best Picture award for Tarantino’s contribution to film, and Parasite does deserve it, not for Bong’s ethnicity, but for the film’s impeccability.”

Of course, my preference for Parasite isn’t necessarily a way of absolving the Academy — the remainder of the list for Best Picture is rather white-washed. But, it is, in my opinion, an important precursor to an idealized film industry, one in which awards are determined by quality rather than diversity. This is not, of course, to support a Caucasian-based Hollywood, or to discount the struggles that minorities of race, gender, and sexuality face within the film industry. Greta Gerwig’s and Jordan Peele’s absence from the Best Director list for Little Women and Us, respectively, is an abhorrence. There is undoubtedly much progress to be made. But we should keep in mind that, ultimately, in an ideal world, one which confers equal opportunity to minorities working in film, quality is the most important. 

There are fundamental changes that must be made to the Academy’s selection process, and the attitude needs to be applied evenly. Mr. King’s approach doesn’t excuse industry-wide insensitivity and exclusivity. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood doesn’t deserve the Best Picture award for Tarantino’s contribution to film, and Parasite does deserve it, not for Bong’s ethnicity, but for the film’s impeccability. What’s more, Parasite is far from the only qualified international, minority-based movie. The Academy needs to better recognize films outside of Hollywood and its white actors and directors.

It’s a nuanced subject, and while separating art from the artist may or may not be the issue, selective acknowledgment of art most certainly is.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on January 26, 2020.