If you had any lingering sense that the voting for the Oscars represented anything other than the mutterings of out-of-touch industry insiders, industry news over the last few days should have erased it. ---
Entertainment Weekly's annual pre-Oscar issue included the now-traditional anonymous comments by actual Academy members about what they're voting for, and why. The individual identified only as "The Actress"--and a previous Oscar nominee--should be glad for that anonymity after her monumentally asinine remarks about the Best Picture candidates. Of Martin Scorsese's Hugo, she said, "[It] was a children's film--and children's films shouldn't win Best Picture." It's hard to say which part of that statement is most jaw-dropping: that a movie largely about the life and career of silent film pioneer Georges Meliés is simply a "children's film," or that the best film can't be one that happens to appeal to young people. This same brain surgeon further opined about front-runner The Artist, a mostly silent film, "A Best Picture should have sound." And how's that ability to speak out loud working for you these days?
That one isolated individual was placed in a larger context by a terrifically reported Los Angeles Times article on the never-publicly identified membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. They focused in large part on the demographics -- the membership is more than 50 percent over the age of 60, more than 90 percent white and almost as overwhelmingly male -- in a way that made it clear that films appealing to a very specific subsection of humanity are most likely to attract attention. But beyond that, the article identified a few specific individuals who might not pass the sniff test for an invitation-only organization that claims to be made up of the best and brightest in the industry. Lorenzo Lamas gets a vote, largely because he was "sponsored" by his dad, actor Fernando Lamas; so does Meat Loaf, who specifically asked Dennis Quaid for sponsorship. And yes, Erik Estrada -- the erstwhile CHiPs star and actor of such magnitude that he appeared on The Surreal Life -- gets a vote.
Whether any of those specific individuals named casts "good" votes is in almost every way beside the point. It is important to be aware, however, that an organization with the power to change careers and affect the movies we see (especially at year's end) represents an insider industry, specifically the most aesthetically conservative possible demographic in that industry. They represent "excellence" in the same way that a high school student-body election is about who has the best platform, rather than who sits at the popular-kids table at lunch. Although given the statements by "the actress," perhaps we'd all be better off if high school students voted for the Oscars.