Oscar nominations are the new participation trophies

Illustration by Diana Ortega

Mass media has the power to shape the beliefs, values and biases of our entire culture. The most talked about way is in terms of race.

The Academy Awards, in particular, have historically been faced with a lot of heat for how it awards — or rather does not award — different races.

The academy has recognized this and is trying to take steps to change its image. But at this point, they are trying too hard.

This year's Academy Awards, especially the nominations for best picture, paint a picture of an academy that is scared not to select movies based on race. Especially since “Green Book,” “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman” are all specifically about racial struggles.

It feels a bit like they are pandering, giving out nominations and awards for movies just because they are racially charged. As opposed to selecting the best movies that also incorporate race. The exception to this, I would say, is “Roma.”

Tracking the Oscars this year is like seeing the token black friend in a kid's show from the 90s. It is nice to see them try, but it is the most obvious and clunkiest way to avoid seeming racist.

That is the issue. The Oscars are trying to seem less racist instead of actually being less racist. For the academy, the issue of race is more of a public relations issue than an ethical one.

To be fair, the academy does not make the movie they nominate. They can only respond and reward the movies that have been made the past year.

Another point in their favor is that moving away from a racist system takes time, and the academy is taking steps to do so.

In 2016, they initiated a policy that hopes to “commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the academy by 2020.”

My personal issue with the Oscars this year is that “Black Panther” won three, and was nominated for best picture, while last year “Wonder Woman” did not get a single nomination.

Both movies took the concept of superheroes and tried to tease them apart in worlds of inescapable injustice and discrimination. Speaking as a Black man, I thought “Wonder Woman” was a much better movie.

It seems obvious to me that the heavy showcasing of “Black Panther” in this year’s Oscars is only happening because reconciling with Black culture is hip.

I do not think race is the biggest issue the academy has, it just reveals a deeper issue. The academy is just out of touch.

The Academy Awards are designed to recognize the best of filmmaking, as determined by filmmakers. The problem with this, outside of filmmakers being disproportionately male and white, is that their lives are shaped differently than everyone else.

Filmmakers spend their days making, watching and analyzing movies. This is different from most of us who watch movies to relax and fill our ever-shrinking free time.

There is nothing wrong with either of these lifestyles, but it means that filmmakers will almost inevitably have a very different understanding and perception of the film — and life — than the rest of us.

The cumulative effect of this on the academy is that Oscar-nominated movies seem out of touch and Oscar-bait movies have become its own genre.

With the added pressure to incorporate race into the Oscars, it is no wonder we got the movies we did.

I do not think the nominated and winning movies this year were bad — except maybe "Black Panther." It is heartening to see the academy try. I would not have been surprised to see all of these racial movies get nominated without any of them winning.

This award season has shown that there is hope for the future, but it will be some time until the Oscars are able to incorporate race in a way that feels natural.