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‘The Martian’ is Not a Comedy: Awards Groups Respond to Controversies with New Rules

'The Martian' is Not a Comedy: Awards Groups Respond to Controversies with New Rules

The recent Motion Picture Academy and Golden Globes rule changes highlight a larger problem: relevancy.

It’s not hard to notice the difference between the too-white Oscar show and its various rivals, from the Golden Globes, SAG and the Critics’ Choice Awards to the recent (uber-promotional) MTV Movie Awards, all of which broaden their nomination categories to include a far more diverse selection of popular hits and television players.

Even if the Academy, in a memo to its members this week, backtracked on its hastily announced eligibility requirements —“despite what you may have heard, and despite the timing of our announcement, this proposal is actually not about diversity”—the larger question of staying relevant as the industry changes around them is vital.

To that end the Academy has opened up the process for being elected to the Board of Governors to all members, including publicist Bruce Feldman, who has been campaigning via social media. Before, members voted for an election committee that chose the candidates for the Board of Governors, often from the same limited pool.
And the Academy Governors sent a memo on Monday to its members to clarify the new rules announced in January on qualifying for Oscar voting on the basis of their active participation in moviemaking. The governors admitted that “in our initial resolution, we tried, but failed to come up with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition of activity.”

As AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs told me before the Oscars, the executive committee of each of the Academy’s 17 branches will vet the eligibility and active status of their individual members, letting them know by the end of the July of their voting rights. The likelihood, assured the Academy, is that few members will be excised from voting rolls. Why put so many members through torture that they would be ignominiously deprived of their voting status?

Thus, the memo makes clear that measuring 10-year activity does not start with when someone joins the Academy (which is often late in their working life) or end when they retire, but rather covers their entire career. As many protesting members have made clear, producers and writers work differently than, say, craftspeople and actors. So each branch will figure out how to determine these calls for their members.

For his part, Feldman criticizes the Academy for the “hasty, ill-thought-out decision they made back in January to disenfranchise older voters,” he wrote on Facebook. “They did it without acknowledging that it was a misguided move in the first place, one that never should have been enacted. But they did concede this: It was the wrath of members that compelled them to backpedal. The board abjectly failed to anticipate the ire of members, young and old.
“We can learn a few lessons from this episode. The first is that we cannot trust the current governors to act with forethought, to fully consider the consequences of their actions, however well meaning they might have been. It’s also very clear that our governors made no effort to invite commentary and advice from members before summarily acting on an issue as major as this one; they should have.”

The larger issue for the Academy is how to continue forward in a digital world that includes many forms of “filmed entertainment” not projected in theaters. Many Academy members now routinely cross the line between films and television. The Academy’s distinctions between TV and film documentaries stretch the reality of today’s world (most are both), along with the so-called differences between digital VFX in live-action movies and animation — big spectacle movies today like “The Jungle Book” or “Captain America: Civil War” are mostly CG creations with live-action components—which are hidebound and antediluvian.
Many actors in the Academy are biased in favor of live-action movies, and against animation and actors like Andy Serkis, who work in motion-capture roles, or the designers on such movies as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” who fashioned intricate miniature sets and costumes for Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated movie. Why should their work not get due consideration? While the so-white-male Academy does reflect the hideous imbalances in how women and minorities are hired before and behind the camera, there are myriad other ways that the Academy is not keeping up with the times.
Meanwhile, over at the Golden Globes, responding to the criticized and mocked  2016 Comedy inclusion of Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”—studio Fox submitted the space epic in that category partly to be able to advertise star Matt Damon’s inevitable win — the Hollywood Foreign Press has tweaked its rules to clarify what constitutes a comedy or drama. The release states:

“Motion pictures shall be entered in the category that best matches the overall tone and content of the motion picture. Thus, for example, dramas with comedic overtones should be entered as dramas. A musical is a comedy or a drama in which songs are used in addition to spoken dialogue to further the plot.”
The 93 L.A.-based HFPA voters, who the studios and networks wine and dine throughout the year in hopes of landing Globe nominations, will vote on whether or not to accept film and television category submissions. It will take 2/3s of HFPA voters to change the designation, and they will let submitters know of any change by August 1.
The HFPA journalists, according to new conflict of interest rules, may not consult or work on eligible TV and film projects. Perhaps most radical for this group, which has been defined how the studios routinely fly, junket, feed and fete its members, are the campaign rule changes. Between the Globe nominations and the final ballot deadline, HFPA members must now “not be invited to and must not attend events (including parties, receptions, lunches and dinners and similar events) at which Golden Globe award nominees are present.”

Quel horreur! Which of course does not change HFPA members’ routines the rest of the time.

NBC will air the 74th annual Golden Globes on January 8, 2017.

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