October 21, 2014

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Could Use Some New Blood

I came across an interesting Hollywood Reporter article some months ago and figured that now would be the best time to share my thoughts about it, since the Academy Awards are just a month away.  In THR‘s November 10th issue, there was an article by Stephen Galloway titled “Why Age Matters.”  The caption under the headline was, “Oscar voters aren’t the most youthful people in Hollywood – and that will affect this year’s race.”  Before reading this article, I hadn’t given much thought to how age could play a major role in deciding which films end up with the Oscar each year.  And now that THR got me thinking about it, I can’t help but be riled up by the matter.

In his article, Galloway discusses the affect that the older age of Oscar voters could have on this year’s top seven contenders for Best Picture: The King’s Speech, The Social Network, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Blue Valentine, Toy Story 3, and Inception.  It’s an interesting piece, but the biggest shock to me was the average age of members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Galloway reports that the average AMPAS member is a whopping 57 years old.  There’s no question that older members means a certain disconnect from movies exhibiting more contemporary stories and material, such as The Social Network or even Toy Story 3.

Regardless of whether someone has a Facebook profile or not, they should be able to recognize that The Social Network is one of the year’s best films.  When David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin team up, there’s not much that can go wrong.  But part of what makes “the Facebook movie” so great is how relevant it is right now.  The film explores a story that has impacted the lives of more than 500 million people – that is, Facebook’s 500 million current users.  The problem is, since the social networking website only launched in 2004, the majority of it’s users are well under 60 years old.  So how is the average 57-year-old AMPAS voter going to connect with The Social Network in the same way that an eighteen or twenty-five-year-old viewer will – people who have been on Facebook for seven years?  You can read as many articles about Facebook and watch as many Mark Zuckerberg interviews as you like, but you can’t understand the phenomenon of Facebook until you’ve joined the community, which I’m sure plenty of AMPAS voters have not.

64-year-old AMPAS President Tom Sherak

The same argument can be made, on a lesser degree, for Toy Story 3.  The film probably meant much more to those of us who grew up with the original Toy Story. Even though the movie might get great reviews from both a 22-year-old and a 55-year-old, it probably made more of an impact on the person who was 22.

I’m not suggesting that the AMPAS offer a membership to every college graduate as they enter the entertainment industry.  All I’m saying is that, with some fresh new faces in the Academy, the organization would be more in touch with the industry’s up-and-coming talent and their work.  It’s not fair to passionate, promising new artists if their projects are being judged by a majority of older voters.  This year’s The King’s Speech was a great film, but it doesn’t deserve the Oscar.  But older voters could mean it gets the gold anyway, and Galloway explains how:

“…the film is perfectly skewed to the Academy’s older crowd.  Its central character was 40 when he ascended the throne, but he’s played by Colin Firth, who at 50 fits the voters’ tastes even better.  Add to that a cast led by such middle-aged vets as Helena Bonham Carter (44) and Geoffrey Rush (59) – add too the fact that it’s a period piece with a happy ending and features nothing more gruesome than a bit of conflict between the monarch and his tutor – and the Weinsteins could be back in The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love territory all over again.” [Stephen Galloway, "Why Age Matters"]

It seems like quite the unfair advantage to me.  It wouldn’t be such a big deal if the Academy Awards weren’t the most prestigious, sought after awards in the film industry.  If the AMPAS were to send out some more invitations to younger industry moguls (and they are out there), there could be less of a bias against more contemporary material.  There comes a point where every organization must pass the torch on to the next generation of members, and now could be the beginning of that time for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

About Bill Peloquin

Bell Peloquin is a Blast staff writer. He writes the Film and Television Buzz blog.