Thursday, January 25, 2018

My Problem with The Oscars Nomination Presentation

Left to right; Andy Serkis and Tiffany Haddish
There's a lot of exciting things to talk about regarding The Oscars this week. For one, I believe that it's one of the strongest years in recent memory. As much as I am looking forward to discussing this year's class of nominees, I felt the need to discuss one thing: I really didn't like the Oscar nomination announcement. It's usually an event lacking spectacle, but this year was marked by one unfortunate obstacle: the presenters. While they're more than worthy of the acclaim that they have gotten elsewhere, it seems like what this year's presentation lacked was a preparation. It showed, and it created something a bit condescending and awful, especially as The Academy wanted to be taken seriously with all of the nominees. It's not the worst thing to happen to The Oscars in recent years, but it's still a bad start to the final stretch of this Oscar season.

Up until last year, the pattern has been that two presenters would get up and announce the nominees. It's as simple as that. The idea may be formulaic, but it allows the information to be presented in an organized fashion. There was something exciting then in last year's choice to have a prerecorded version that added a nice artistic bent. In hindsight, it was a nice way to finish Cheryl Boone Isaacs' final year as Academy President by showing that they would try something new. Sure, it had its own novelty and meandering, but it was nicely formatted and had the mentality of a viral video. If The Academy wanted to finally appeal to a 21st century mentality, that was it.

Then 2018 marked something odd. It wasn't just going to be a video package. It was going to be a little of the old and the new. What this meant was that there would be two announcers, Serkis and Haddish, but there would also be inserts of videos depicting what each category represented. As usual, the 26 categories were presented in two halves, and the first was pretty strong. It was, well, you can watch it for yourself below:

First, I would like to suggest that the idea of doing multiple platforms has a certain deterrent to it. As the video shows, the choice to present depictions of each category added a bit of an unnecessary slog to the presentation. While they were nice out of context, they complicated the suspense already of the awards season. As any previous year would suggest, there isn't a need to know what Best Editing does. It's too late in the game to focus on these logistics. What everyone wants to know is the nominations. While there's room for suspense to be built, the voice to cut between presenters and videos created a disjointed vibe that kept feeling like a distraction from the actual ceremony. It was as if two different ideas were clashing together in a fashion that presented a lopsided image. Unlike last year, there wasn't much of a need for the video. The idea felt half formed as it was.

The first half didn't seem problematic beyond this. Serkis and Haddish did a decent job of presenting the categories. However, the second half - the one that most were tuning in for - was a train wreck. It was as if the duo's energy had faded and the caffeine buzz was fading into a headache. Their chemistry quickly went from being jolly representatives to a bit baffled by a lot of the nominees. It would be one thing if a single category had a goof (everyone remembers Best Cinematography nominee Dick Pope, or "Dick Poop"). However, there was something grating about the role Serkis and Haddish played throughout the back end. Both mispronounced Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and later would find grammatical issues with several of the nominees. Haddish in particular was embracing of her errors, even laughing without hiding her own errors.

In theory, this is a very minor offense. Most people on Twitter (including several nominees) didn't care about the goofs. However, it does present a conflicting image with what 2017 was supposed to represent. It can be seen in such nominees as Lady Bird and Get Out where more diverse talent was recognized while problematic Hollywood figures were shut out. The Oscars are wanting to be taken seriously as a place that recognizes films by all groups of people. There's a good chance that the Me Too and Time's Up movements will get serious airplay during the ceremony. This year's nominees were a successful sign that The Oscars were finally wanting to be more than the old white man awards. The fact that a film as unorthodox as The Shape of Water leads with 13 nominations is itself an astounding achievement.

So as much as mispronouncing a name here or there isn't an issue, it felt offensive in part because the choice for a grand ceremony of inclusion was undermined by a sense of carelessness. In a year where the Best Director field featured a woman for the first time in almost a decade, it felt important to say names correctly. This was a moment where everyone was above having their name mispronounced, especially as if it was a joke that they had a complicated name (especially for "Ebony Missouri"). Sure, there's a need for The Academy to have a bigger sense of humor. However, there's something in embracing mispronunciation at some people's proudest moment that feels condescending. As much as the general presentation was bad, I think that this decision was a poor choice because of what this year was supposed to symbolize. It's inoffensive in actuality (who is even going to remember the announcement?), but it's still a bit rude to not at least take these errors with a bit more shame. 

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