BYU film professors discuss 2019 Academy Awards

Associated Press
In this Feb. 4 file photo, an Oscar statue appears at the 91st Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, California. (Associated Press)

BYU Film and Media Arts professors gave their insights about this year’s Academy Awards nominees regarding inclusivity, the ceremony in general and what content they choose to consume.

Media Arts critical studies Area Head Benjamin Thevenin said a whole field revolves around marketing films for Academy Awards nominations. However, the awards still carry an element of art and societal relevance.

“I think the Oscars provide some insight into what American film critics and professionals value at a particular moment in time,” Thevenin said. “Without award shows, we’d still have reviews and box-office results, but this gives us a slightly different way of understanding what’s culturally and aesthetically relevant.”

Arianna Davidson
Dylan Wright, Andrew Groome, Hannah Pyper-Dalley and Clara Wright rehearse a scene in Anne Sward-Hansen’s TMA 315R class. (Arianna Davidson)

Thevenin said behind-the-scenes marketing in the filmmaking industry affects which films get nominated.

“How much money is spent taking out ‘for your consideration’ ads and sending out kits to academy members and the press is a big determinant of what films are nominated for and win the awards,” Thevenin said. “I’m not sure that film audiences realize the money and work that goes into that behind the scenes.”

On the other hand, Kelly Loosli, a professor in the Theater and Media Arts Department who specializes in animation and screenwriting, said she feels the Oscars — and broadcast television in general — have lost their luster.

I stopped watching several years ago. I do note who wins and then watch to see how those wins impact the visibility of the project and the talent, but watching the broadcast has sort of lost its luster,” Loosli said. 

With the different viewpoints in mind, both TMA faculty members noted the inclusivity in the 2019 ceremony, specifically in regard to nominees, speculations and general opinions.

Arianna Davidson
Dylan Wright, Clara Wright, Hannah Pyper-Dalley and Andrew Groome rehearse a scene for the first time in Anne Sward-Hansen’s TMA 315R class. (Arianna Davidson)

I like that so many of the nominations reflect an interest to emphasize socially conscious and even progressive stories,” Thevenin said. “The best picture nominations all address pressing issues affecting our country — race, gender, sexuality — and in so doing, emphasize the potential of art to contribute to positive social change.”

Thevenin said he felt “Black Panther” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” were both films that balanced being socially relevant while also being entertaining to an audience.

Loosli agreed with Thevenin and said “the inclusion of ‘Black Panther’ shows that the Academy is now interested in supporting popular film.”

In recent years, the Oscars have featured more popular film and a wider range of animated film. In 2018, Greta Gerwig became the fifth woman to be nominated for best director, which shows an increase of the Academy recognizing women.

“The effort for more inclusion, including popular film and the animation feature category, are quite interesting,” Loosli said. “I like much of what the Academy is doing, but I am not sure how much that impacts me.”

Arianna Davidson
John Newton, Dylan Wright, Hannah Pyper-Dalley and Andrew Groome discuss a scene in Anne Sward-Hansen’s TMA 315R class. (Arianna Davidson)

Loosli said the new inclusivity of popular film and animation by the Academy has happened recently, only over the last dozen years or so.

Thevenin’s parting thoughts were about moviegoers closing themselves off to various types of media because of what they look like on the surface.

For instance, Thevenin watched “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse” multiple times, each for a different reason. Thevenin said one reason was to invite a friend to broaden his film horizons, but that friend had written off  “Into the Spider-Verse” as a kiddie movie from the get-go.

Thevenin said people will often choose to watch films they are familiar with instead of branching out and this affects how they see the world.

“This is too bad, because film, art and stories are a great way for us to experience the world through the eyes of others, and in so doing, better understand others’ experiences and perspectives,” Thevenin said. “When we watch a range of films, we can understand a greater range of the human experience, and we can become better humans ourselves.”

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