Film: The International Impact of the Oscars

Oscar decorations adorn the Hollywood and Highland Center prior to the 2012 Academy Awards ceremonies.

by Echo Xie

Needless to say, the Academy Awards are one of the most viewed awards ceremonies.  (This year’s Oscars program was telecast on at least 69 different international networks.  However, this year’s Grammy Awards actually rated more highly with the U.S. television audience.)

In America, the Oscars are known as the ultimate celebration of a year in cinema (at least for mainstream cinema), accompanied with the annual show of the wardrobes of celebrities. People get excited weeks before the nominations, arguing over their favorite films that deserve a mention on the list. Then after the nominees are out, they begin another round of guessing, placing their bets on which will win and which should win. Finally at the big night of the ceremonies, everyone is surprised or upset or disappointed or in rare cases, satisfied. As part of the tradition, people get to judge the Academy’s good/bad taste according to their own prediction of the winners. (For more reaction to this year’s awards, please see:  “Film:  More Reflections on A Separation.”)

However, the situation is slightly different in other countries. For most people outside of the U.S., especially in non-western countries, the Oscars are more of an introduction than a review. At least, that’s the way it is for China.  Although the government is making an effort to increase the importation of foreign films (in other words, Hollywood films), most of the films they introduce are what we would call “Hollywood Blockbusters” like Transformers or Avatar.  (For more on this, please see:  “Making Way for More American Films in China.”) For example, take last year, from the 83rd Academy Awards.  Among the ten best picture nominees, from the history/biography of The King’s Speech (the winner), to the psycho thriller Black Swan to the drama The Kids Are Alright and many others, only two of them, Toy Story 3 and Inception were shown in China. And this year? Until now, none.

Thus in China, the Oscar nominations are often treated like an annual guide to films worth seeing. Many would begin their research based on the winner’s list and firmly believe everything on that list must be great as it’s from the world’s most prestigious voters.

But who are those prestigious voters? For the first time, the Los Angeles Times revealed an astonishing fact:  that among the Academy members, 94 percent are white, 77 percent are male and only two percent are under the age of 40.

It’s crazy to imagine such an uninformed group is shaping the taste of millions from not only the other end of the world, but from a completely different culture and background.

And what happens to Chinese filmmakers when the general audience takes the Oscars so seriously? Well, they forget how to tell a story and why they want to tell it in the first place, except, they want a shot at the awards.

And that’s exactly why a film from the People’s Republic of China has never won in the best foreign language films category. A film made for the Oscars can never make it to the Oscars.

(The photo is by chickpokipsie — Rachel — of Los Angeles via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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