This Year’s Oscars Didn’t Deepen The Academy’s Crisis, But Didn’t Solve it Either

Around 90 minutes into the 95th Academy Awards, Deepika Padukone appeared on stage to introduce RRR’s ‘Naatu Naatu’, nominated for Best Original Song, before its live performance. Calling it a “total banger” and “the first song ever from an Indian production to be nominated for an Oscar”, the actor spoke for one-and-a-half minutes, amid roaring applause interrupting her several times. After singers Rahul Sipligunj and Kaala Bhairava recreated the number, with more than a dozen dancers, a surprise awaited them: the attendees in the Dolby Theatre gave them a standing ovation.

Around 90 minutes later, music director M.M. Keeravani and lyricist Chandrabose won the Academy Award, upstaging such heavyweights as Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Two more Indians won the Oscars this year, director Kartiki Gonsalves and producer Guneet Monga, for The Elephant Whisperers in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. (Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes, nominated for Best Documentary Feature, lost to Navalny, pivoted on the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the investigation into his poisoning.)

Now what about the rest of the ceremony? Over the last few years, the Academy Awards have battled several crisis: plummeting viewership (from over 30 million six years ago to 16.6 million last year), strange changes (in 2022, eight categories were awarded off air), fading relevance (best exemplified by HBO airing the finale of its popular drama, The Last of Us, at the same time as this year’s awards), and more. The Academy, in response, made a few crucial changes this year – reinstating all the awards during the ceremony, posting the acceptance speeches on TikTok and Facebook almost simultaneously, and QR codes appearing before commercial breaks to help audiences learn more about technical categories – hoping to win back its lost pride.

Jimmy Kimmel hosted the awards for the third time (after the 2017 and 2018 editions). And even though his opening monologue wasn’t particularly sharp, it did manage to weave in some pertinent gags. He joked about James Cameron and Tom Cruise missing the awards (“the two guys who insisted we go to the theatre didn’t go to the theatre”) and the former not getting the Best Director nod (“I mean, how does the Academy not nominate the guy who directed Avatar? What did they think he is, a woman?”). But his most ingenious statement targeted the Academy, the last year’s attendees, and its most discussed event. Yeah, he spoke about The Slap (how could he not?): “If anyone in this theatre commits an act of violence, you’ll be awarded the Oscar for the best actor and permitted to give an 18-minute-long speech. (…) If anything unpredictable or violent happens during the ceremony, just do what you did last year — nothing.”

Nominated for 11 Oscars and winning seven (including Best Picture and Best Director), Everything Everywhere All At Once dominated the awards night. It secured three out of the four awards in the acting categories, too. Jamie Lee Curtis won the Best Supporting Actor (her first Oscar), while Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian woman to win the Best Actress award (and the second woman of colour after Halle Barry). Ke Huy Quan, winning the Best Supporting Actor award, became only the second man of Asian descent to clinch the honour. Brendan Fraser won the Best Actor for The Whale.

Quan and Fraser’s wins have been stories of comebacks, sharing remarkable similarities. If Quan returned to acting after two decades – as roles dried up due to his ethnicity – then Fraser’s acting career slowed during the late aughts to mid-2010s because of various personal problems (including being a victim of an alleged sexual assault). The anti-war German epic All Quiet on the Western Front, nominated for nine Oscars, ended up winning four, including Best International Feature, Cinematography, Production Design and Original Score.

This year’s Oscars may not have deepened The Academy’s crisis, but they’ve not resolved it, either. At 210 minutes, the ceremony still felt long. Neither Kimmel nor the other presenters could elevate the show to a compelling watch that warranted a live viewing. The whole event – including and especially the banter – had a predictable air to it. You could have simply read the list of the winners online, and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. In fact, one of the few things breaking the tedium was the performance of ‘Naatu Naatu’. The Oscars have unveiled a similar show for so long that it doesn’t even feel surprising. What is surprising, though, is India’s two wins this year – something that, one hopes, becomes a regular fixture in the future.

This article was first published on The Wire.

Host Jimmy Kimmel surrounded by dancers during the performance of ‘Naatu Naatu’ at the Oscars. Photo: Twitter/@RRRMovie