Are Film Awards Still Relevant?

Eric E. Surbano

09 Mar 2022

The 2021 Oscars saw an all-time low in viewership, following the previous year's record low, while across the board, all film award ceremonies have been plagued with complaints

[This story originally appeared in Koktail Magazine issue 2.]


Without looking it up, can you recall which film won Best Picture at the Oscars last year? Two years ago? Three? If you named all three, you’re probably one of the few who are able to. But have you watched all three of them? And did you actually enjoy watching them?

In recent years, it seems that people are more interested in film awards because of the celebrities, the interviews, the host (if there is one) and the spectacle rather than for the celebration of the art and craft of film. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t enjoy a slo-mo cam of Brad Pitt gracing the red carpet or Ricky Gervais’ scathing jokes of the Hollywood elite?

But even then, the general public’s interest in these awards seem to be declining. The 2021 Oscars saw the lowest viewership numbers in its history. The recent Golden Globes was mired with so much controversy that NBC refused to air the ceremony. They ended up holding an untelevised event with no celebrities present and the winners unceremoniously announced on Twitter. The only thing to come out of the Golden Globes that piqued the public’s interest was Snoop Dogg’s mispronunciation of Ben Affleck’s name.

People don’t seem to clamour about award-winning films as much as they used to, nor do they rush to see them in the cinema. Most award-winning films of recent years seem to fade into obscurity after their time in the spotlight is done, though that hasn’t always been the case. Classic films that won Best Picture at the Oscars like Rocky, The Godfather and Lord of the Rings are etched into the pop culture psyche permanently.

A critically acclaimed film that garners a lot of awards attention and perhaps even wins many of them, these days, is very unlikely to achieve the same commercial success as one of Marvel’s films. Martin Scorcese once likened the MCU movies to a theme park. Here’s the thing though: many people love theme parks.

Should film awards, then, be forgotten? Are they the product of a by-gone era that ought to be left behind as the film industry thrusts forward? Or do awards need to evolve with the times? The glaring evidence for any of these fates is the fact that every well-known film award has experienced its share of controversy recently. The Hollywood Foreign Press, the organisation that awards the Golden Globes, has been criticised for a lack of diversity both in its nominees and its voters. The Oscars have also faced similar criticisms, like in 2020 when no female directors were nominated, which prompted actress Issa Rae to give an underhanded compliment: “Congratulations to those men.” The Venice Film Festival also faced its own problems when director Roman Polanski, who was convicted of rape, was not only nominated but won the Grand Jury Prize.

And so we find ourselves asking once again, “Are film awards still relevant?” Perhaps they are in the sense that they celebrate high-brow filmmaking that often slips past commercial success. But if the people in the industry themselves are calling organisations out for a lack of inclusivity, this may be the sound of the death knell. Unless drastic changes are made in the way they do things, it may no longer be a surprise that “awards season” is simply just untelevised ceremonies, unceremonious announcements of winners and the unexciting mailing of statuettes to winners followed by a social media post of some sort. And that would be a shame, because I must admit, I do love watching a grumpy Ricky Gervais grill celebrities.