Thursday, February 24, 2022

An Open Letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences


TO: David Rubin, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

CC: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Board of Governors

Dear President Rubin and Academy Board Governors,

To misquote the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians, "Oh foolish Academy, who has bewitched you"? I note with great sadness how your organization, once the benchmark for film excellence, has devolved into a curious mixture of audience pandering and indifference to those creatives you claim to celebrate and acknowledge.

Last year, you altered your awards presentation in a bizarre hope that a posthumous nominee would win and thus end your awards presentation on a "cinematic" note. When a still-living nominee ended up winning, you ended up looking almost exploitive of both a dead man and a senior citizen. You stepped on both the winner's moment and the late nominee's memory. You shamefully attempted to use affection for an actor gone too soon for your own cynical motives. You also denigrated the work of the eventual winner by drawing attention away from his work and achievement in hopes of getting a viral moment for your own self-promotion.

This shameful ploy was preceded by the Academy's proposals in the past few years to segregate certain categories to commercial breaks and this year, to cut categories out of the live broadcast altogether. This was built on the theory that, due to the broadcast's length, larger audiences would tune in if the show ran shorter. Eliminating "obscure" categories, the theory went on to say, would somehow increase viewership. 

I do not subscribe to the theory that viewership is down because presenting the Documentary Short Film Academy Award takes up slightly more or less airtime than presenting the Documentary Feature Film Academy Award. I doubt viewers were irritated that Colette took some time away from My Octopus Teacher.  

The backlash was so great the first time you proposed excluding certain categories from the broadcast that you were forced to reverse course and have all the categories presented live. One would have thought you would have learned from the loud objections Academy members and the remaining viewers voiced to the idea of removing categories from the broadcast when last proposed. 

Evidently, you did not.

You next attempted to pander to viewing audiences with the suggestion of a new category: "Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film", as nebulous a category as has been proposed. How would you define "Popular Film"? What criteria would you use for nominations to this category: box office receipts, number of screens, length of time in first-run theaters? All of the above?

As "Best Popular Film" could also be nominated for Best Picture, would that mean that a Best Popular Film winner that lost Best Picture wasn't that good after all? If a Best Picture winner lost Best Popular Film, would that mean it wasn't that popular to begin with? 

I would love to hear the logic of how simultaneously removing categories from the broadcast while adding a whole new category to the broadcast would shorten your presentation's running time.

Now you reveal your indifference to the Arts & Sciences of Motion Pictures by essentially saying that "some nominees are less important than others". 

The decision to exclude certain categories from the broadcast is a shameful one, displaying a callous disrespect to the nominees and their colleagues. The nominees in these categories have worked hard in their various fields, some for decades, before receiving in some cases their first nominations. Many toil away silently, attempting to excel in their chosen crafts. They now with their nominations have achieved a major milestone in their careers and lives. 

However, as some had the misfortune to have their work recognized in the Animated Short Film category versus the Animated Feature Film category, they are to be excluded from having said milestone celebrated.

A single nomination may be the highlight of their career, a win a crowning achievement. The cliche may be "it is an honor just to be nominated" but for a small group of artisans, a nomination for an Academy Award is indeed an honor, an exceptional recognition of their work. In some cases, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, an experience they will treasure for the rest of their lives. 

Your decision to deliberately exclude them from having their wins broadcast live has robbed these craftsmen of their moment. To see their one moment in time stolen from them and substituted in favor of the #OscarFanFavorite hashtag or to celebrate the cinematic contributions of Billie Eilish or Beyonce has to be seen as an insult to their work and themselves personally. These makeup artists, these short film directors, have done more work for film than a pop singer whose contribution to cinema is a song written primarily to reward him or her with an Oscar. 

The artists in these shunted categories more than likely do not aim specifically for Oscar recognition. Most aim to merely work in their chosen field to the best of their abilities. They may dream about Oscar wins, but for most if not all the nominees in these excluded fields, just working at all is a reward, with working at something they love a blessing.  

I imagine that winning an Academy Award, even in "obscure categories" is a singular moment for the winner/winners. If it is a great moment for those in "major" categories, imagine those whose only moment comes in these now-excluded fields.

Best Actor winner Charlton Heston approached his Ben-Hur director, William Wyler, and told him with regards to Wyler's Best Director win, "I guess this is old hat to you". Wyler, who had won Best Director twice before winning for Ben-Hur, replied "Chuck, it never gets old hat". 

Mr. Wyler, despite his past wins, still recognized the extraordinary thrill of being chosen by his peers as that year's best. He recognized the enormous honor an Academy Award was, that thrill of victory that comes to so few. For those in lesser-known categories, to be before millions of people and receive what was once the most prestigious film award would be something out of a beautiful dream.

Now, however, in a failed effort to pursue audiences that do not care about the categories, the nominees or even film itself, you have decided that these craftsmen do not merit even the briefest moments in the sun for achieving a great feat. Instead, they deserve in your eyes to be all but ignored for their hard work.   

I am but one of many who do care about Original Score, about Film Editing, about Production Design, about Sound, about Hair and Makeup. I do care about the Short Subject Categories of Documentary, Live-Action and Animated Films, though I admit I would care more if I had greater exposure to them. Do note, however, that I make every effort to see the nominated films in those categories whenever I can.

My disappointment in seeing a formerly august body publicly degrade itself to please advertisers is great. You have publicly disgraced yourselves. You have revealed that you do not care about the arts and sciences of filmmaking. Instead, you have revealed that your only interests in filmmaking are the financial rewards your organization hopes to reap.

Your continued efforts to alienate your loyal viewers in vain and vainglorious efforts to attract viewers who, unlike myself, do not care about the various technical categories is disheartening. You, like Charles Foster Kane, no longer subscribe to your own Declaration of Principles.

Therefore, I have come to a most painful decision. After years if not decades of watching your awards telecast, I have decided, most reluctantly, most painfully, to not watch this year's ceremony. I cannot support with my viewership an organization that has betrayed its self-proclaimed objectives of recognizing the best in film and the art of filmmaking. I will not be party to a shameful sham of a ceremony. 

Even if you were to once again reverse your decision on this matter, which I hope you do, I will not watch this year. Why should I bother? If you do not care about those you yourselves nominate for your awards, why are you asking me to? 

I am aware that my singular absence will not be noted by your organization and may not have any impact on the ratings for this year's ceremony. I have decided, however, that if you do not care about showing respect to those your organization has nominated for your awards due to misguided efforts at popularity, I am under no obligation to be part of this disgraceful spectacle.

I wish all the nominees for the 94th Annual Academy Awards well. I acknowledge the Academy's exceptional work at film preservation. I look forward to visiting your Academy Museum. I hope to see next year's ceremony with great pleasure. 

I, however, have decided that I can best show the excluded nominees my respect by not watching this year's ceremony.

Most Respectfully,

Rick Aragon

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