Tag Archives: 12 Years a Slave

A Cynical Critic Analyses The Oscars

3 Mar
Image by Alan Light, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Alan Light, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I have a confession to make: I didn’t stay up late to watch The Academy Awards last night.

I wanted to, I really did, and in my defence, I usually manage to watch part of the awards during the early hours. Although the only ceremony I’ve ever watched in full was the 1998 Academy Awards, also known as The Year Titanic Won Everything. It was a Sunday evening, and I was still at school, but I managed to get the TV in my room and watch it with the volume turned almost all the way down, and I got away with it. That is, until this confession.

So, while most of my contemporaries reported live from the ceremony, or watched online while playing some kind of Oscars Drinking Game, I was happily snoozing, and like much of the rest of the world, I woke up and read the results, alongside a plethora of tearful acceptance speeches, Oscar selfies and red carpet interviews.

It might sound like I’m dismissive of the Academy Awards, but I’m not, I think recognising the world’s film industry is a wonderful thing and is something that we need to champion. But over time, the hype surrounding the awards has become less about the films nominated and more about the celebrities in attendance and the outfits they wear for the ceremony.

I used to love watching televised award ceremonies; I loved the glitz and the glamour and seeing talented people be rewarded for all their hard work and dedication. To those in the industry, that little gold statuette is the ultimate stamp of approval, it is acceptance and celebration of their work. To the outsider, the mere mention of an Oscar lends authority to a film, and adding the words ‘Nominated for an Academy Award’ on the DVD cover of a nominated film can make the difference between a quick sale or a long stay in the Bargain Bucket.

After all my years of illicit night-time Oscars viewing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the actual awards ceremony is pretty boring; it follows the same formulaic structure; there’s amusing and usually inoffensive host, (last year there was an offensive host, and he didn’t go down very well) bad jokes, gold envelopes, aggressive clutching and waving of the statuettes, and then a big party afterwards. Preferably the Vanity Fair party, but you know, any party will do. The Oscars are so damn reliable, Hell, even the speeches are predictable nowadays.

The evening isn’t an honest glimpse inside the inner workings of the mysterious Hollywood machine – after all, we know very little about the 6,000 voting members of The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Science who decide the winners – because the event itself is nothing more than an exercise in PR, fashion and inane interviews. The Oscars has become extremely safe television for an extremely wary industry.

And herein lies the problem; while The Oscars has witnessed various, and very nasty smear campaigns against nominated films and individuals over the years. For example, in the run up to this year’s ceremony, Stephen Frears’ Philomena, which was nominated for the Best Picture Award, was slammed as being “anti-Catholic propaganda”, while historical allegations of child sexual abuse against Woody Allen were brought out into the open once more after his latest film, Blue Jasmine, started winning accolades at the start of the awards season.

And yet, while the standard of the films nominated are always excellent, the awards themselves suffer from what the journalist Boyd Tonkin has called “…the Hollywood pattern of belated  bravery”, that is that Hollywood, despite all the razzle dazzle, is at least 20 years behind in representing major scandals and failures of society. For example, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club chronicles the AIDS epidemic and homophobia of the 80s, which killed thousands of people in America alone, yet the film was only made last year, 20 years after Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning turn as an AIDS sufferer in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, because no one was willing to back the project.

Meanwhile, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, which took home the coveted Best Picture Award and a much-deserved Best Supporting Actress statuette for Lupita Nyong’o, received a markedly different response to Gordon Parks’ 1984 adaptation of Solomon Northup’s journey from free man to slave, which failed miserably, as seemingly, America just wasn’t ready for a real tale of human suffering from the 1850s.

It wasn’t always like this, The Oscars used to be great television; in 1974, a streaker attempted to upstage David Niven, while in 1973, Marlon Brando refused to appear in person to collect his Best Actor Award for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, and chose to send civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to draw attention to the plight of Native Americans across the country who had been let down by the government. Littlefeather used her time on stage to criticise Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, while in 2003, Michael Moore’s acceptance speech for the Best Documentary Award for his film, Bowling for Columbine was cut off by music and a chorus of boos when he condemned the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq. 

If The Oscars is about celebrating every aspect of filmmaking, then it can’t shy away from the more political and less PR-friendly side of the industry. So, if films reflect the world around us, why, in the 21st century, are we still struggling to commit mankind’s more difficult side to celluloid? The Oscars needs to be about passion, truth and freedom of artistic expression, something which The Academy, and the industry at large, must consider for next year.

PR Post Mortem: A Mysterious Academy Award Prediction

28 Feb
Academy Awards Image by Doug Kline, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Doug Kline, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Rubbish PRs seem to be a bit like buses; none for ages, and then three utter beauties come along at once. Some plucky agencies must have read my last PR Post Mortem post, where I admitted to missing their terrible PRs, and suddenly, I’ve had them in abundance in the last week.

With it officially being ‘Awards Season’ I received the following PR earlier this week. As always, I’ve removed all mention of the client and the PR company, in order to protect the innocent, and my second PR Post Mortem post this year, is all about predicting the winner of the Best Picture award at the 2014 Academy Awards, which will be broadcast on the 2nd of March. But, will they be proven right?

Hello there, [My name isn’t “There”, my name is Amy]

I thought you’d be interested [Oh, did you?] in this analysis from [REDACTED] that looks at the web surfing habits of people who have the same characteristics as the mysterious Oscar [You mean the Academy Awards, surely?] voters to determine who they are most likely to vote for:

4 Non-Contenders – Captain Phillips, Her, Philomena, Nebraska

2 Near-Misses – The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club

3 Challengers – American Hustle, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave to win Best Film Oscar [It’s called the Academy Award for Best Picture]

London, 26 February 2014 – The Oscars [Ahem, The Academy Awards] are voted for by a group of around 5,800 people that the Los Angeles Times discovered are much less diverse than the average film-going public [SHOCK HORROR!] – they’re older (86% are over 50), [OLDER?!] white (94%) [Oh God, no!] and male (77%) [Not surprising].

Based on its own data, [REDACTED] knows that this select group tend to have a love of sports cars, [Oh really?] high-end clothing [Is that so?] and exotic travel destinations [Wait, how are you getting this data?]. Thus, [REDACTED] can predict which film this group are likely to vote for based on the interests – analysed through web surfing habits – of thousands of people with these same demographics and interests, aka ‘lookalikes’. [Oh, I see. Actually, I don’t see. How did you get hold of these “web surfing habits”?]

Four Non-Contenders
There are nine films up for Best Picture but, based on lookalike modelling, [Say, what?] Captain Phillips, Her, Philomena, and Nebraska, have almost no chance of winning [Harsh]. Fans of Captain Phillips, for example, have high regard for films like Warm Bodies (a romantic zombie comedy) [Yes, I know what Warm Bodies is] and The Last Stand (a Schwarzenegger action film with Johnny Knoxville) [Yes, I know that Schwarzenegger makes action movies. Have you seen Commando? Now THAT is an action movie]. The fan base of Her are far too into science fiction [There’s no such thing as being ‘far too into Science Fiction’] and technology themes than would be acceptable for the average Oscar voter – nearly 20 times more likely. [Riiiiight. So, what you’re saying is the average “Oscar Voter” is a bit stupid? Yes?]

While differing tastes among Oscar [Academy Awards, dammit] voters counts these films out, social status puts paid to the other two. Philomena fans are the least affluent of the nominees, being 2.8 times more likely to earn less than £30,000 a year. [Yes, but, how do you know this?] Nebraska is the true art house favourite, with a young urban audience that is decidedly aspirational – in fact, roughly half spend considerably more than they earn. [But how do you know?]

Two Near-Misses
Although serious contenders The Wolf of Wall Street (too selfish) [Bankers, amirite?] and Dallas Buyers Club (too unselfish) [Or compassionate?] won’t win either.

Fans of The Wolf of Wall Street play to a stereotype distasteful to the typical Oscar [Academy Awards] voter. They are very wealthy – 9.6 times more likely to earn more than £150,000 a year, 6.8 times more likely to be investment bankers, and 4.6 times more likely to buy an imported Italian suit [Where are you getting these facts?]. They also have a high interest in celebrities like Heidi Klum (10.7 times), Megan Fox (8.4 times), and Britney Spears (8.3 times). [LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE]

At the other extreme, Dallas Buyers Club fans are a more caring type, one not really in sync with the stereotypes of Hollywood. They are the most likely to be expecting a child (11 times), to be dog owners (8.3 times), to be vegetarian (7.3 times) and to be primary school teachers (6.5 times). [So, Hollywood is full of childless cat owners who eat meat and don’t work in education? It must be Hell on Earth!]

The Three Challengers
The three remaining challengers – American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave – enjoy broad appeal, with none of the baggage of the other films. [I don’t know, 12 Years a Slave is a pretty heavy film, man]

A simplistic demographic approach would suggest a narrow win by American Hustle over 12 Years a Slave. As viewers get older or wealthier, they increasingly prefer these films – in complete contrast to Gravity – but Caucasians are most likely to be fans of American Hustle. [Those damn Caucasians. Did you ask any other demographic, like, you know, people of colour?]

However, people living in Los Angles [Uh, you mean Los Angeles?]– and in other major US cities – are more likely to be fans of 12 Years a Slave. American Hustle fans tend to be found in the next tier [The next tier? Like a cake?] of cities such as Philadelphia, Denver and Phoenix.

So what comes out on top when considering all the demographic, social and interests: socially well-established older white men living in Los Angeles [Yay! You spelt it right!] who (broadly speaking) have a love of sports cars, high-end clothing and exotic travel destinations? [Sounds like a Republican’s wet dream, if you ask me]

Taking all the factors into account shows that 12 Years a Slave will narrowly beat American Hustle to Best Picture. [Care to stand by that prediction, Mystic Meg?]

[There was a rather bland graph here. I’m not sharing it because it’s boring]

Unsubscribe [Oh, you bloody bastards!]

What They Did Right

  • PR was timely and about a subject that’s relevant to a cultural blog
  • They revealed, that yes, Hollywood is controlled by rich white men, just as we all thought

What They Did Wrong

  • Not using my name, my name isn’t “There”.
  • They didn’t use my name, yet they seem to think I’d be interested in their PR.
  • IT’S CALLED THE ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEST PICTURE – if you’re going to send out a PR about how good your data is, then you need to get some basic facts right.
  • Mysterious, mysterious data – what is this data? How did they get it?
  • I have no idea how they know some people’s “web surfing habits”.
  • Why should I write about data this mysterious?
  • Assuming I don’t know the plots and stars of Warm Bodies and The Last Stand.
  • Spelling error “Los Angles” – a pretty significant mistake.
  • It’s a VERY long PR.
  • It actually gets quite boring, and it could have been very interesting at some point.
  • Bland graph.
  • Signing me up to a third-party mailing list without my knowledge or permission means an instant unsubcribe request.


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