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Opinion | Do award shows even matter?

And other thoughts on the slap, the snubs, celebrity culture, and diversity

Anyone else remember watching the Oscars and then before you know it, BAM! Will Smith is on stage and Chris Rock is getting slapped. Now, like me, you might have been waiting for the laugh from the audience—waiting for the moment when it all would make sense. Except it never came. And now you’re staring at the TV, jaw-dropped, thinking, ‘Did I really just see that?’ Even when I spoke to senior Lilo Seyberth-Shea, the hilarity of the award shows came up. 

“Sometimes people get slapped or people make bad jokes. It’s entertaining. It’s just like a bunch of really rich celebrities coming into one room. Something is bound to happen.” 

It’s true that we’ve been given unforgettable moments, but are the award shows’ attempts to remain relevant even rooted in the reality of what their audiences want? 

One big attempt by many shows to remain relevant is their commitment to diversity. In fact, the Oscars recently announced new rules to encourage diversity of nominations. According to Forbes, “To be eligible for Best Picture, a film must meet two of four new diversity standards.” The standards lay out new requirements for leading/supporting characters, creative leaders/department heads, senior executives, and production/financing companies to include a specific amount of people from underrepresented groups.

Diversity at the award shows is a problem. No doubt about it. And it’s important to address. According to Paramount, on-screen representation changes how people feel about themselves and others. Even if it’s subconscious, seeing someone who’s lived experience reflects yours on the big screen can feel validating. 

“For one of the highest nominations, if there are like five white men, yeah, that’s kind of odd. And it doesn’t seem fair. The whole thing is kind of like a social experiment in a way.” Seyberth-Shea added. 

Beyoncé is a great example. She has won the most amount of Grammys ever, but never the coveted Album of the Year award. In fact, it’s been 25 years since that particular award was secured by a Black woman. And who won it this year? Taylor Swift, securing her fourth Album of the Year win within the last fifteen years.

This is exactly what Jay-Z spoke about when accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award at the 2024 Grammys. “Once exclusion was no longer an option, the inclusion of Black music has been curated, at least historically, very carefully, to absorb that music while minimizing black people.” He went on to add, “I don’t want to embarrass [Beyoncé], but she has more Grammys than anyone and never won Album of the Year. So even by your own metrics, that doesn’t work.” 

Especially in music, the influence of Black culture is obvious. Elvis Presley is a prime example of white people taking Black music while simultaneously excluding Black people. Just within the last ten years, there has only been one Black winner of the Album of the Year award. 

Then comes the Oscars. I know people felt bothered by the Barbie snubs, with Greta Gerwig missing out on Best Director and Margot Robbie missing out on Best Actress, but I don’t feel the same level of discontent. Barbie was a movie starring white people, directed by a white person. And while it did include people from all backgrounds, the faces of the Barbie aren’t America Ferrera (despite her widely popular monologue) or Issa Rae or even Simu Liu. The stars are Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. More to the point, this year has the largest number of female directors nominated for Best Director, but the conversation is on the snubs rather than on the movies and women that are finally getting nominated.

Seyberth-Shea asked a great question: “What is it [the award shows are] for?” And it leads to another question: do the award shows matter to us? I would argue no. Saltburn is a great example of a movie (or TV show or music) that drives pop culture but goes unnoticed and unawarded by the shows. You could also even argue that Barbie deserved more nods simply because it was the highest-grossing film by a woman and a movie that got people back out to the theaters. We all remember Barbenheimer.

Lastly, I think an interesting parallel is that we don’t watch the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony or the Pulitzer Prize awards ceremony. Both are arguably more important and feature activists and writers doing valuable work in society. But our obsession with celebrity culture drives who we listen to, what we watch, what we invest our attention in. So, at the end of the day, award shows are really just an opportunity for celebrities to give themselves a pat on the back.

As Seyberth-Shea put it, “I don’t think it matters to the public as much as it does to the actual musician and artists and playwrights and actors. It feels like it’s an ego boost for them.”

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Charlotte Murray, Opinion Columnist
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