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Are the Oscars still ‘relevant’ for Gen Z?

With the majority of the contemporary cultural lexicon now comprising of ‘Generation Z’, whose interests primarily reside around the brevity of TikToks, YouTube Shorts, and scrolling through social media, is The Academy at risk of becoming insignificant to the new pop-culture zeitgeist?

Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) // Courtesy of IMDb

By Kieran Maxted, Fourth Year, Philosophy

In February of this year the Super Bowl generated a viewership of 123.4 million worldwide. Comparatively, the Academy Awards, known more commonly as ‘The Oscars’, only generated a viewership of 18.7million. In a ‘post-Covid’ world, with avid filmgoers now reluctant to commit a weekly £10 for a cinema ticket, and alternatively reverting to the comfort of their sofa, does this suggest that the once profound influence that Hollywood, and ‘The Academy’, had on pop-culture is diminishing? With the majority of the contemporary cultural lexicon now comprising of ‘Generation Z’, whose interests primarily reside around the brevity of TikToks, YouTube Shorts, and scrolling through social media, is The Academy at risk of becoming insignificant to the new pop-culture zeitgeist?

The 96th Annual Academy Awards was held on Sunday March 10th, 2024, at its current regular home venue - The Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. The ceremony is indisputably the entertainment industry’s most illustrious night; a crescendo to the annual award-giving season. The occasion is a celebration of the most distinguished artistic achievements in filmmaking, and since its nascency in 1929 its prominence within pop-culture has been unrivalled. However, the last few years have suggested otherwise. Yearly viewership has shown a steady decline since 2014, with 2023 being the third lowest of all time; the two lowest coming in 2021 and 2022, attracting the attention of only 10.4million and 16.6million respectively. This paints a vastly different picture to that of 1998 for example, with 55 million eager viewers tuning in.

Since 2013, it has only been the ceremonys' most controversial moments which have achieved true media ‘virality’, as opposed to the winners and nominees. Examples of such moments include 2017’s envelope switch up and Jennifer Lawrence’s stumble in 2013. The most notable example must be that infamous ‘slap’ during the 2022 ceremony. The incident involving Will Smith and Christ Rock actually stirred up more of a media storm than any number of that year’s winners combined. In the subsequent days, the internet, and media platforms worldwide, were flooded with coverage on that isolated incident. Public comment
and opinion focused on the moral stance of both parties, completely overshadowing conventional discourse surrounding the merits of the winners on the night.

This also suggests that pop-culture interest in the night itself predominantly resides in the ‘viral moments’ which the night seems to bring about. Not exactly an image the once pervasively revered Academy would hope to have, at odds with their intended purpose of validly celebrating the year’s most commendable achievements.

Possibly, such a response indicates a disillusionment ‘Gen-Z’, and pop-culture as a whole, has with regards to the films nominated. Specifically, over the last decade, ‘The Academy’ has been criticised as being outdated in failing to nominate films which truly represent the ‘film-going’ population’s interests. For ‘Gen Z’ this disinterest is reflected in the opinions of University of Bristol students. Speaking to Epigram, Oliver, who is a Philosophy MA student stated that he has “not tuned in to the Oscars ceremony over the past five years”. Similarly, Luke, Fourth Year Liberal Arts Student, went further to say he “never tunes into The Oscars”. Oliver reasoned that the nominations were “not usually the biggest hits of the year”, an exception being this year’s best picture nomination for Poor Things. Luke does, however, take an interest in nominees and winners; but only views the films that are getting “the most hype”, and also heavily reviewed in the media.

Oppenheimer and Cillian Murphy that won Best Picture and Best Actor respectively (2023) // Courtesy of IMDb

Misalignment with The Academy’s purported reductive choices has been a talking point for a significant period of time. Films not meeting the criteria of any particular ‘type’ of movie have been deprived of deserved nominations. Only movies which seemingly possess “Oscar-bait” attributes bear the worthiness of consideration for ‘winner’ status. Such films include emotively hard-hitting dramas adapted from famous novels/historical events, generally with a duration exceeding 2 hours. Superhero and Science-Fiction genre films have been
historically negated, along with films of a stylistically unorthodox and idiosyncratic nature.

Notorious examples of this include ‘Best Picture’ nomination snubs for The Dark Knight (2008) and The Matrix (2000). Not to mention ‘Best Picture’ wins being rejected for contemporary classic auteur flicks such as 2010’s The Social Network and 2011’s The Tree of Life. ‘Blockbuster’ favourites and ‘indie darlings’ disregarded, solely because of their stylist qualities or genre reputation.
As mentioned above, this negates a plethora of fan-favourites, a possible causal factor for ‘Gen Z’ disinterest. Not only is this not an accurate barometer for what makes an ‘objectively good’ movie, more importantly it highlights how The Academy’s choices misalign with the interests of the general film-going population.
It is clearly evident from the 2023 summer box office success of Barbie and Oppenheimer, along with recent media obsession with Emerald Fennel’s Saltburn, that films themselves do still have relevance within pop-culture. The Oscars, being the zenith of filmmaking cherishment, should therefore accurately represent the interests of all filmgoers in the best way possible. But this still appears to be their stumbling block, evidenced with the warranted media uproar surrounding Margot Robbie’s and Great Gerwig’s respective nomination snubs in the Best Actress and Best Director categories. Snubs despite receiving ubiquitous acclaim for their phenomenal works on Barbie.

Saltburn (2023) // Courtesy of IMDb

For many ‘cine-files’, and pop-culture holistically, films are not merely forms of escapism. They represent a composition and commemoration of an array of artforms, and artists, which they encompass. They encapsulate and rejoice the spirit of a cultural moment, unveil moving historical events, convey vital moral and political messaging, and inspire action and emotion in their viewers. The Academy has a responsibility to reflect the importance that movies have on the audience through their choices of nominees and winners. Oscar wins also have wider implications for the film industry as a whole; paramount for shaping its future trajectory. It provides a platform for certain movies, generally the smaller-
scale independent movies, to gain public exposure and potential financial support for future projects. Furthermore, it has the potential to offer new artists an opportunity to express their artistic vision and gain a foothold in the industry. It will shape the cultural backdrop, in the years subsequent, and therefore ‘Gen Z’s’ future consumption of that content. Surely it is imperative that films nominated are not only of interest to those nominated, but also an opportunity for The Academy to understand what will be best for audiences in the said succeeding years.

Nevertheless, The Academy does seem to be acknowledging the potential risk of completely losing the interest of Gen Z and pop-culture. Over the past couple of years, they have made active changes to counteract this problem and retain as much popular appeal as possible. The 2024 ceremony will see Amelia Dimoldenberg, of Chicken Shop Date fame, as both red carpet correspondent and social media ambassador. 2018 saw the first ever superhero movie ‘Best Picture’ nomination for Ryan Coogler’s evolutionary Black Panther. 2023 and 2024 has also seen ‘Best Picture’ nominations for blockbuster and box-office smashes: Josh Kosinski’s Top Gun: Maverick; Great Gerwig’s Barbie; and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. The grapevine even speculates about a future potential new category addition, ‘Box-Office Achievement’, as seen with this year’s Golden Globes, to provide the requisite appeal.

Barbie (2023) // Courtesy of IMDb

However, is this too little, too late? Is it merely a desperate last grasp by The Academy to cling on to a once had popularity from a bygone era?

What is your position on the Oscar’s relevance? Do you have an opinion about this year’s nominations?