Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Oscars through the decades

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In this week’s edition of The Pioneer’s FYI column, we delve into the captivating world of the Oscars, especially timely as we reflect on the just-concluded 96th Academy Awards ceremony. From its humble beginnings to its current status as a global cultural phenomenon, we explore the rich history and evolution of the Academy Awards. The 2024 Oscars have left a lasting impact on the film industry and audiences alike. Join us as we uncover the glitz, the controversies, and the unforgettable moments that have shaped the Oscars into the prestigious event it is today.
Tanisha Saxena
In the glittering constellation of entertainment accolades, few events capture the world’s attention quite like the Academy Awards, affectionately known as the Oscars. The mere mention of this prestigious ceremony sends ripples of excitement through the film industry!
From its humble beginnings in 1929 to its present-day status as a global cultural phenomenon, the Academy Awards have evolved into more than just an awards ceremony; they are a beacon of glamour, a showcase of talent, and a stage where the magic of cinema takes center stage. In this era of ever-expanding media landscapes, the Oscars continue to be a buzzworthy spectacle that transcends boundaries, fuelling conversations, controversies, and the collective anticipation of audiences worldwide.

A peek at the history
Satya Priya Ranjan, director at The Blue Turtle Films, explains, “The Academy Awards, commonly known as the Oscars, boast a storied history dating back to their inception in 1929. Conceived by MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, the ceremony emerged as a platform to recognise and celebrate outstanding achievements in the burgeoning film industry. The inaugural event, held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, marked the introduction of the iconic Oscar statuette, a gold-plated knight designed by artist George Stanley. As the film industry evolved through the decades, so did the Oscars, transitioning to television in the 1950s and expanding its categories to encompass various facets of filmmaking. The ceremony’s global influence grew exponentially, reflecting the increasingly international nature of the industry.”
The inaugural televised broadcast of the Academy Awards in the United States took place in 1953, marking the commencement of international broadcasts from 1969 onwards.
As the late 20th century unfolded, the Oscars transformed into a cultural spectacle, captivating millions of viewers. Esteemed hosts like Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal became synonymous with the event! The red carpet interviews, highlighting attendees’ fashion choices, also became an integral aspect of the ceremony. However, facing a significant decline in viewership during the late 2010s, the academy introduced strategic alterations to the broadcast format. These changes included a three-hour time limit starting in 2019 and an earlier air date commencing in 2020.

Categories and Rules
Tatsam Mukherjee, an independent journalist, shares, “The Academy Awards, presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, recognise excellence in the film industry. Winners receive the iconic gold-plated statuette known as the Oscar. There are 24 categories, including best picture, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, directing, original screenplay, adapted screenplay, and more. Eligibility requires a film to be publicly exhibited in Los Angeles County within the calendar year, with exceptions for foreign-language films. Nominees are chosen by members of corresponding film production branches, with the entire academy voting for best picture and most other categories. Winning an Oscar brings international recognition, prestige, and often boosts box office earnings and career opportunities for recipients.”

From Plaster to Gold:
The Evolution of the Oscar Trophy
Senior entertainment journalist and film critic Aayush Sharma elucidates, “Despite the enduring design of the golden statuette, the Oscar trophy has undergone several alterations throughout its history. Initially depicting a knight holding a sword and standing on a film reel, the trophy’s five spokes symbolise the original branches of the Academy: directors, producers, actors, writers, and technicians. Originally crafted from gold-plated bronze, the material changed temporarily during World War II due to metal shortages, with winners receiving painted plaster trophies, although they were assured they could exchange them for metal ones after the war. Starting in 1982, the central part of the Oscar was replaced with Britannia metal, an alloy based on pewter.”
In 2016, another change occurred when the trophy reverted to being cast in gold-plated bronze. The statuette measures 13.5 inches in length and weighs 8.5 pounds. However, producing an Oscar trophy is no simple feat. The initial batch of 50 trophies requires three months to manufacture, involving a meticulous 12-step procedure.

The controversies around Oscars
The Oscars, or the Academy Awards, have seen various controversies throughout their history. Some notable instances include issues of diversity and representation, like the #OscarsSoWhite movement, which highlighted a lack of diversity among nominees. Other controversies involved political statements made during acceptance speeches, such as Marlon Brando’s rejection of his Oscar in 1973 to protest Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans. Additionally, disputes over snubs and surprising wins have sparked debates within the film industry and among viewers.
Shedding light on the controversies surrounding the Oscars, film critic Murtaza Ali Khan accentuated, “The Oscars, Hollywood’s pinnacle event, has been marred by a slew of controversies over its 95-year history. From unexpected ties to shocking snubs, and even a mix-up in announcing the Best Picture winner, the Academy Awards have seen it all. One of the most iconic moments occurred in 1969 when Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for Best Actress, pitting a rising star against a seasoned legend. Marlon Brando’s refusal of his Best Actor award in 1973, sending activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, highlighted Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans.”
In 1980, Francis Ford Coppola’s snub for Best Director for Apocalypse Now raised eyebrows, while Cher’s daring fashion statement in 1986 stole the red carpet spotlight. The controversy surrounding the 1990 Best Picture win for Driving Miss Daisy over Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing underscored issues of race and representation in film.
He further adds, “Angelina Jolie’s intimate display with her brother at the 2000 Oscars sparked a tabloid frenzy, while Bjork’s unconventional swan dress in 2001 blurred the lines between fashion and performance art. The ill-fated hosting stints of Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011 left audiences cringing, and the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2015 forced the industry to confront its lack of diversity. The unforgettable mix-up at the 2017 Oscars, where La La Land was mistakenly announced as Best Picture instead of Moonlight, remains etched in collective memory. Most recently, Will Smith’s onstage slap of Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars shocked viewers, revealing tensions beneath the glamorous surface of Hollywood’s biggest night.” Each controversy serves as a reminder that beyond the glitz and glamour, the Oscars reflect the complexities and controversies inherent in the world of filmmaking and celebrity culture.

India at the Oscars
Murtaza Ali Khan points out, “The evolution of Indian cinema’s connection to the Oscars reflects a strategic shift from sporadic nominations to deliberate publicity campaigns. Initially, films like Mother India and Salaam Bombay garnered nominations by highlighting social issues prevalent in Indian society. These early nominations brought attention to the country’s cinematic output but often portrayed India through a lens of poverty and adversity.”
In recent years, however, there has been a conscious effort to showcase the cultural richness and diversity of Indian cinema on the Oscar stage. The soundtrack of the film Naatu Naatu, composed by MM Keeravani, was awarded Best Original Song at the 95th Academy Awards ceremony. And more recently, The Elephant Whisperers has presented narratives that go beyond poverty and delve into various aspects of Indian culture and history. This shift in focus not only reflects the changing landscape of Indian cinema but also aims to present a more nuanced and authentic representation of the country to an international audience.
Crucially, the success of Indian films at the Oscars is not solely dependent on the quality of the film itself but also on the effectiveness of the publicity campaigns surrounding it. These campaigns are meticulously planned to garner attention from Academy members and the broader international audience. They often involve screenings, press events, and promotional activities aimed at highlighting the unique cultural elements portrayed in the film.
By leveraging these publicity campaigns, Indian filmmakers can ensure that their films stand out in a competitive field and have a better chance of securing nominations and even wins at the Oscars. Ultimately, this evolution underscores the growing significance of the Oscars as a platform for promoting Indian cinema on the global stage.

Oscars: Inspiring Excellence in Global Filmmaking
Jatin Parveen, writer-director at Vagabond Studios, opines, “The impact of the Oscars extends far beyond the glitz and glamour of the red carpet; it serves as a beacon of inspiration for every individual involved in the intricate craft of filmmaking. From actors and directors to writers and music composers, the recognition and celebration of excellence at the Academy Awards inspire creativity and innovation across the industry. This influence is particularly evident in the emergence of a new generation of screenwriters and directors who approach filmmaking from a global perspective, transcending traditional boundaries and embracing diverse narratives. However, despite the mantra that “content is king” becoming ubiquitous, there remains a sobering reality that much of the content produced still falls short of excellence. As the industry evolves, there is a pressing need for a collective commitment to elevate storytelling standards, ensuring that the content created resonates with audiences worldwide and upholds the legacy of excellence exemplified by the Oscars.”

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