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‘Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots’ Reveal an Academy Complacent in Its Own Privilege

'Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots' Reveal an Academy Complacent in Its Own Privilege

One could argue — and indeed, one has — that the Hollywood Reporter’s “Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot” serves a useful function. Every year, THR’s Scott Feinberg rounds up a group of anonymous Academy voters and gets them to explain how and why they’re voting, generally in the most infuriating terms imaginable. Here are some gems from this year’s series:

A member of the Academy’s executives branch says he’s not voting for “Carol’s” adapted screenplay because “I’m not especially interested in or sympathetic to the problems of a rich white woman,” then goes on to cast his vote for “The Big Short,” which is about rich white men.

The same voter admits he hasn’t seen “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, but is voting for it in Makeup and Hairstyling because he hates “The Revenant.” He also says he simply picked his favorite movie in Sound Effects and Sound Effects Editing because “I don’t know the difference between the two. Nobody does.”

A member of the Academy’s at-large branch, reserved for people who have held “a key creative position,” says he can’t vote for “The Revenant” in the production design category because the movie “was outside the whole time so who’s the production designer? God?” (The production designer was Jack Fisk, and while not precisely a deity, he’s a 40-year industry veteran and master of his craft who’s only been nominated once before.) He also disqualifies “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” from Best Editing because “I don’t know how much of the editing was actually CGI, so I find it hard to consider that against something like ‘The Big Short’ or ‘Spotlight.'”

The Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots serve a useful function in that they dismantle the myth that the Academy Awards are all, or even primarily, about the triumph of the most deserving candidates. Nearly every voter confesses they haven’t watched all the movies they’re voting on — let alone all the eligible nominees — and their rationales range from petty grievances to outright bigotry. Last year, one of Fienberg’s subjects scolded the cast of “Selma” for protesting police brutality: “Did they want to be known for making the best movie of the year or for stirring up shit?”

But one thing the Brutally Honest voters aren’t asked to be brutally honest about is why they’re talking to Feinberg in the first place. One has to imagine it’s at least partly for the attention, even if it is anonymous, and past years have shown that the voters who come across with the most inflammatory reasons are the ones who get the biggest response. (Voter Sees Nominated Films, Comes to Logical Decision is not a particularly grabby headline.) They’re grinding axes in public, and expecting gratitude for telling us the truth.

Oscilloscope Labs president Dan Berger, whose “Embrace of the Serpent” is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film — a movie that Brutally Honest Voter #2 admits he never saw — fired back at the voters, thanking them for their candor but saying that the interviews were “a bitch of a shame to read.”

“As a member of the Academy,” Berger writeste, “you have a singular obligation to watch every film in the categories for which you vote. In the filmically derived words of a bottomless pit of internet memes: You Had One Job. I understand many of you are busy. You have jobs or families or Netflix. I get it. But for the sake of respecting industry colleagues, the body that has granted you voting privileges, and passionate cinephiles who may-or-may-not-deliver-pizza everywhere: just watch the f—king movies. You get them. All of them. For free. Delivered to your home. If you somehow cannot find the time to watch them, please abstain from voting in that category.”

“In the eyes of a film lover, your one job is one of the most amazing privileges on earth. And it’s your privilege to have a say in elevating and celebrating the work that moves us, the films that change our perspectives, the cinematography that takes us to new places, the performances that connect us, heal us, rip us apart — but you know, in a good way. It is a privilege to decide what has value, what has meaning and what matters — and pretty darn integral to that determination process is actually watching the thing.”

The Los Angeles Times revealed today that, four years after their study revealing the Academy’s 94 percent white, 77 percent male makeup, the needle has barely budged: An aggressive campaign to diversify new members has only shifted the numbers to 91 percent white and 76 percent male. Honest Oscar voters are better than dishonest ones, but honesty without accountability isn’t worth much. More than the specific motives behind particular votes, what the Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots really reveal is how complacent in their privilege some Academy voters have become. 

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