Opinion: Awards shows should focus on the arts, not the ratings


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Erik Uebelacker Erik Uebelacker 2:15 PM Today Will Smith, left, and Jada Pinkett Smith arrive at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Just a quick scroll through Twitter will show that awards shows like the Oscars and the Grammys are losing both ratings and respect. But as these once-iconic events scramble to try and make their broadcasts more friendly to viewers, they’re sacrificing their main purpose of honoring the nominees’ achievements in their industries.

This year’s 94th Academy Awards were the first Oscars to present the awards in two separate ceremonies. Instead of being shown in the main broadcast, eight of the 24 awards were given out in a separate pre-show, where the winners were announced over social media with their acceptance speeches later edited into the main broadcast.

The categories that did not make the cut for the main show included awards for short films, makeup and hairstyling, production design, editing, original score and sound.

“What not televising those awards means to me as a filmmaker is that the Oscars are not necessarily respecting film as a whole,” said Kylie Ramirez, president of the DePaul Film Fatales, a student organization devoted to supporting women and nonbinary filmmakers.

While Ramirez said that the Oscars can be aspirational, the conversations she’s had with other DePaul students have shown that filmmakers are losing respect for the awards.

Rob Steel is an associate professor in DePaul’s School of Cinematic Arts, teaching classes in sound design and mixing — fields that were excluded from the Oscars’ main ceremony this year. He feels a similar disdain for awards shows.

“They’re popularity contests, they’re political, they’re not about the best work,” Steel said. “And actually, why should anyone be asking what the best work is?”

Steel pointed out that this year, the Oscars also combined the categories for sound editing and sound mixing, two separate elements of filmmaking.

As “invisible arts,” Steel said he’s used to categories like sound and editing being overlooked. But just because audiences might not be as interested in these awards doesn’t mean they can be swept to the side for the sake of time — in fact, it demonstrates a need for the opposite.

“I do think it has a negative impact in terms of narrowing the masses’ minds about filmmaking itself,” Ramirez said about giving less time to certain categories.

The Oscars isn’t the only award show struggling with relevancy. Last year’s Grammy Awards saw less than 9 million viewers, a 52 percent drop in ratings from the year before, according to the New York Times.

The Grammys usually separate their awards into a pre-show and the main ceremony. With 70 categories this year, nobody is asking them to fit them all into one broadcast.

As a result, whole genres can be delegated to a YouTube livestream instead of the primetime show. Last year, rock, jazz, classical, R&B and other styles of music didn’t see a single award given away on the main stage.

The Grammys differ in that the focus is on creating more time for live performances during the show. As a composer himself, Steel said he’d be happy if they simply announced the awards with a ticker on the bottom of the screen if it meant bringing in more performers.

But Steel also noted that awards shows are an incredible sales tool.

2021’s Song of the Year “I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R. saw a sales increase of 6,771 percent the day of the Grammys, as reported by Rolling Stone. Chris Rock even saw an increase in ticket sales for his upcoming comedy tour after Will Smith slapped him at the Oscars, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Every winner goes home with the same trophy, but artists in the pre-ceremony aren’t awarded the same exposure.

To the Academy’s credit, it’s a difficult, perhaps impossible, job to figure out how to fit everything in while still producing an engaging show.

“And coming out of a pandemic, we’re all kind of on shaky ground,” Steel added. “Nobody in the arts has a really great road map about how to recover.”

But currently, both the general public and members of the industry are dissatisfied with awards shows. If these awards are trying to reimagine their broadcasts, they need to take care of those in the arts community first.

“I feel like the Oscars are missing this feeling of family,” Ramirez said. “[They’re missing] this community, this collaboration that happens where it’s not just one person who takes all the credit for the film.”

Being more inclusive in which awards are televised certainly won’t solve the Oscars’ or Grammys’ laundry list of issues. But at the very least it could help them to recover some of their reputation and put their focus back on celebrating the arts.