Although I've been a member of the Writers’ Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 1983, I haven’t been watching the Oscars much in the past few years, so I missed the supposedly “grand event” of this year's ceremony—Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, who told an insulting joke about Smith’s wife Jada.
More of that in a moment, but first, here's why I no longer watch.
At first glance, the obvious reason is that they've turned it into a Festival of Woke.
And yes, that’s part of the reason, although I understand it wasn’t so extreme this year.
Nevertheless, the idea that Sean Penn threatened to melt down his statues if the Academy didn’t televise a message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the proceedings is yet another ludicrous—although not surprising—example of how so many members can’t let the evening be about the movies. It has to be about their supposed virtue. (It’s notable that Penn wasn’t nominated for anything this year, but as they say, “attention must be paid.”)
On that one, as original mogul Samuel Goldwyn himself said years ago, “Include me out.” I frankly can’t imagine anything more reactionary, artistically, while pretending to be progressive. Goodbye to half—or maybe 95 percent—of Turner Classic Movies, not to mention Shakespeare, the Greek Theater, and so forth.
But the real reason I don’t watch is that the movies aren’t the movies anymore.
They've been split in two between “action” pictures designed to distract teenage boys from computer games, for a few minutes anyway, and pseudo-art films made for prizes. Neither are good.
I understand that the 2022 ceremony, inadvertently illustrating the point, featured a tribute to “The Godfather” on its 50th anniversary. That was a film classic loved by all, from a time when Hollywood made movies that everyone wanted to see—and even anticipated.
There were many, but not from recent years. Art forms, like most things in life, have cycles.
Yes, "CODA," this year’s best picture winner about life among the deaf, is worthy and engaging, but it’s far from the level of those iconic movies, many Oscar winners of yore, that we want to see again and again (made by the likes of David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, and on and on).
In that sense, I—this Academy member and long-time-ago Oscar nominee in screenwriting—have joined the public that's losing interest.
Reactions to this event have varied. Looking at the video, it certainly was what we used to call a “coup de theatre”—a sensational, sudden turn of events in a play, taking a pretty humdrum evening and making it into something worth talking about. (Already, we learn that Rock isn't pressing charges—not that anyone expected he would.)
A friend in New York thinks Smith still receiving his best actor Oscar for “King Richard” after charging onstage and slapping Rock (pretty forcefully, it seems) and, of course, dropping the F-bomb, is symptomatic of our now easy national acceptance of violence.
I take his point. I’m not a fan of Antifa either (to say the least) or of people ripping off stores with sledgehammers with impunity—some recently, pretty near the Kodak Theater where the Oscars are given, actually.
But I think in this case it was more a matter of two men behaving like jerks.
Rock told a really stupid joke about Smith’s wife, who has a genuine and quite serious autoimmune illness, and Smith reacted just as stupidly. Both guys are going to have to live with what they did. Too bad for them.
In other words, as the greatest playwright and screenwriter of all time would put it, it was and is finally all “much ado about nothing.”
But maybe it helped generate viewers for the Academy Awards ceremony, the ratings for which have been descending faster than Biden’s poll numbers. We shall see. In the long run, however, onstage battery is a dubious strategy for artistic awards ceremonies—at least, I hope so.
I have a better suggestion. Go back to the past and start making movies like “Back to the Future” again.
And while you’re at it, ix-nay on the anti-art in-inclusion-ay. Imagine the films of, say, director Akira Kurosawa—generally accepted as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time—if he were required to use blacks, whites, Hispanics, and so on in his Japanese movies. Insane, no?
Ladies and gentlemen of the Academy, get a life!