Roughly 100 years in the past (or, in actuality, 14 and a half months in the past, on Feb. 9, 2020), “Parasite” gained Finest Image eventually 12 months’s Oscars. It was one of many final main cultural occasions of what we’d quickly name the Earlier than Instances. Director Bong Joon Ho joyfully declared he would “drink till subsequent morning.” Not less than for a second, all felt proper on the planet.

However COVID-19 was already spreading throughout Asia and Europe, and anti-Asian racism was on the rise. A month later, the pandemic had upended life as we knew it. With a lot lack of life and livelihoods, eager about the pandemic’s results on popular culture initially felt considerably shallow and frivolous. But, as weeks of quarantine was months, our screens turned one among our few sources of mental and emotional stimulation. Hollywood quickly responded, attempting to launch any film or present that had already been produced and was near completion, and transferring would-be theatrical releases to streaming and on-demand platforms.

The Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, amended its guidelines in order that films that couldn’t premiere in theaters would nonetheless qualify to compete within the Oscar race. It additionally postponed the 2021 ceremony till late April, shifting the schedule for Hollywood’s annual marathon of awards ceremonies by two months. And now, we’ve lastly reached the top of the longest, strangest awards season in current historical past, which could have its curtain name on Sunday on the first, and hopefully final, pandemic Oscars.

The pandemic appears to have accelerated the perennial hand-wringing over the rankings for the Oscars broadcast and whether or not award exhibits are irrelevant and dying relics. The lead-up to Sunday’s ceremony introduced the standard collection of headlines concerning the huge strain on the academy and ABC to get audiences to tune in. (“The Oscars Are A Week Away, However How Many Will Watch?” “Oscars Might Have Bother Overcoming TV’s Awards Present Rankings Issues.” “Awards exhibits are struggling to attract TV audiences. Ought to the Oscars be apprehensive?”) Positive, this 12 months has been notably precarious. Audiences are understandably fatigued from watching Zoom acceptance speeches beset by technical snafus (poor Daniel Kaluuya). And it might nonetheless really feel superficial to care a couple of glitzy, gossipy gathering of Hollywood elites, towards the backdrop of the trauma and grief of this horrific 12 months. 

The 2021 Oscars will nearly actually be the lowest-viewed ever, following the equally low viewership numbers for this 12 months’s Tremendous Bowl and Grammys. However the cratering TV rankings have been a supply of concern yearly. We don’t watch as a lot stay TV anymore, and each time we activate our screens, an countless menu of viewing choices vies for our consideration. There are fewer actually collective sources of leisure, popular culture occasions that seemingly everybody watched and are speaking concerning the subsequent day. These aren’t new issues, making the perennial warnings that award exhibits are in a state of disaster overly alarmist.

Once we look again on the unusual circumstances of this 12 months’s awards season, I hope they don’t overshadow or put an asterisk on what has been unequivocally nice concerning the 12 months in films.

Whereas the numbers have certainly declined precipitously annually, the Oscars stay one of many most-watched TV occasions of the 12 months. And for higher or for worse, they’re nonetheless related. Even because the present’s producers always attempt to reinvent the awards present format, like this 12 months’s “the Oscars are a film!” method, or if fewer folks watch them on stay TV and simply scroll via tweets about them, they’re nonetheless influential. If the Oscars didn’t matter, why would we make investments time and power in demanding that they higher mirror the nation’s variety? Why would we, even in these unusual occasions, nonetheless have an awards season? The Oscars are each a supply of escapism and a mirrored image of the tradition at giant, a time capsule of a specific second in historical past.

Sooner or later, after we look again on the unusual circumstances of this 12 months’s awards season, I hope they don’t overshadow or put an asterisk on what has been unequivocally nice concerning the 12 months in films. This 12 months’s Oscar nominees have been by far probably the most various in current historical past, with practically half of the 20 performing nominees consisting of actors of coloration. It’s a seismic shift from 2015 and 2016, when zero actors of coloration have been nominated, and even from final 12 months, when all however one of many performing nominees have been white.

It could be tempting to say that the pandemic triggered this shift. With film theaters closed, main studios postponed practically all of their huge releases, and the few films that did try large-scale theatrical releases (ahem, “Tenet”) failed to achieve a lot awards traction. It’s potential this made method for a wider vary of flicks from a extra various vary of filmmakers and filmmaking types to interrupt via.

Nevertheless, it’s extra possible that the pandemic accelerated what was already taking place. It has been six years since activist April Reign’s Oscars So White hashtag catalyzed a really public reckoning over variety and illustration in Hollywood, forcing the academy to lastly take steps to make its membership extra inclusive. Every year, the academy has invited an increasing number of filmmakers of coloration, youthful filmmakers and worldwide filmmakers, all bringing to the desk a way more various vary of types and tastes. 

This 12 months’s slate of nominees is probably going the results of having these new voices, some proof that lastly, an “Oscar bait” film doesn’t must be informed from an outdated(er) white male gaze. Consequently, it has develop into tougher to outline or predict what films are “typical” awards contenders — and that’s undeniably a superb and thrilling improvement. A decade or two in the past, it might have been onerous to think about a Finest Image lineup the place extra “conventional” and “standard” fare like “Mank” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” have been the underdogs to films as diversified as “Nomadland,” “Minari,” “Promising Younger Lady” and “Sound of Metallic.”

However earlier than the academy pats itself on the again, it’s price remembering that the Oscars have a historical past of backsliding. Within the early and mid-2000s, there have been a number of years the place as many as 5 or 6 actors of coloration have been nominated in a single 12 months. However then, we obtained a number of years of all white or practically all white nominees. And that’s only for roles in entrance of the digital camera, the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the various areas of illustration that want to enhance.

But, this time does really feel completely different. The general public strain has by no means been extra pressing, making it tougher and tougher for the academy to get away with a scarcity of variety in its nominees. There’s motive to be cautiously optimistic that this 12 months’s progress wasn’t only a flash within the pan, although it’s nonetheless too quickly to inform. I think subsequent 12 months will give us a greater reply on whether or not that is actually the start of some lengthy overdue, everlasting progress, the fruits of a few years of activism and momentum from each inside the trade and past.

Like so many features of the pandemic, there’s so much about this unusual awards season that will likely be a aid to depart behind. However some components can and will outlast the pandemic. I really like a messy, drama-filled awards present as a lot as anybody. However I additionally appreciated the quick and candy Display Actors Guild Awards: a one-hour, tightly produced bundle of pre-taped acceptance speeches and, for as soon as, some endearing presenter bits, like Dame Helen Mirren informing us that she beloved “PEN15.”

All through the pandemic, the trade has taken steps towards accessibility that ought to stay prime of thoughts. Movie festivals went digital, which made their slate of movies obtainable to a wider vary of moviegoers. Distributors partnered with impartial film theaters to launch digital cinemas, which allowed moviegoers to help each small movies and small theaters. Whereas the COVID-19 vaccines will enable these occasions and venues to renew in-person operations within the coming weeks and months, there’s no motive that no less than some portion of those digital choices can’t proceed.

After all, nothing beats sitting in entrance of an enormous, vivid display screen in a room stuffed with fellow film followers. Greater than the rest about moviegoing, I so deeply miss the collective effervescence, that feeling of getting skilled one thing actually extraordinary along with a bunch of strangers. 

Even the very best digital screenings or award exhibits can’t absolutely replicate that magic.

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By Elin

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