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Nowadays, the annual Oscar Gala has become a global celebration of cinema. It is an event full of glitz and glamour attended by artists and celebrities from around the world. However, the red carpet, designer dresses, and flash lights of thousands of cameras are only superficial attributes of this event. Associate Professor Barbara Giza, film expert and Head of the Journalism Department at SWPS University explains the role of the Oscar Gala in American culture.


American Mythology

The shaping of American mythology began, when first silent genre films were being created. Westerns played an especially meaningful role in that context, because they told the story of the American Frontier. For Americans, the story of the Wild West has played a similar role as the hundreds of years of history did for the Old Continent. While the European culture was built on archetypes defined before the Common Era, the United States has drawn on the role models and values created by the movie industry. The first Westerns were based on a few rules, at the time more intuitive rather than formally defined, such as: the dichotomy of good and evil (where White settlers were presented as good protagonists and their protector was usually a man, living by a simple moral code which demanded that each wrongdoing must be punished and each transgression against the rules stigmatized), common iconography (for example a white church, a saloon, and most importantly - vast expanses of land that were being conquered by a White man), and the spirit of unity in the community. Other film genres were also aligned with this mythological trend, for example by creating the ideal model of romantic love.

From the very beginning, the cinema has been creating and transforming symbols that shape the imagination of film audiences. Since its inception, the industry has been creating myths only to transform, renounce and recreate them. Today, the society remains under the constant influence of the film industry, which significantly impacts people’s understanding of the world.

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at SWPS University

Celebration of Cinema

The Oscar Gala, the event during which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes the best achievements in the film industry, should also be treated as a symbol. For all Americans, but also for all people who belong to the culture dominated by audiovisual materials, the Oscar Gala is a celebration of cinema. The Gala celebrates not only film as art, but also film as a medium, which creates a collective imagination. One can obviously point out the vanity and spectacular excess of the event, which is transmitted around the world. However, the American mainstream cinema is characterized by excess, therefore its hard to demand modesty during its main celebration.

Symbol Cast in Gold

The golden Oscar statue also befits this dazzling celebration of cinema. The weight of the Oscar is not only physical, but also symbolic. Many times the Oscar Gala was used as a platform for speaking about social and political issues. For example, in 2016 when the Oscar nominations did not include any African Americans, many minorities protested the verdict of the Academy. Some artists decided to boycott the Oscar Ceremony. On the one hand there were voices supporting the African American minority and on the other hand comments were heard claiming lack of achievement among this ethnic group. However, not many people understand the real significance of the exclusion from the Oscar nominations. For many filmmakers, the awards given by the Academy mean more than just the recognition of their achievement in the industry. They also symbolize participation in the public debate and presence in the collective consciousness. By omitting African Americans (and other minorities), the Academy presents a certain position on racism and social inequality - the problems that are still very current in the United States.
Because of the cultural significance of the cinema in the collective consciousness, the minorities have been fighting for equality in the film industry for years. Excluding artists, of other than white skin color, from the nominations to such a prestigious award is very significant.

The debate about the lack of nominations for African Americans has brought another issue to the surface. The majority of the voting Members of the Academy are, on average, white men over sixty. Of course, the issue is more complicated than that. The President of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a Black woman. Cheryl Boone Isaacs has already announced changes, which will bring “new blood” to the Academy and will make it more accessible to various minorities. So there is a chance that the symbolic meaning of the Oscar will be aligned with the spirit of our times and its mythological aspect will be put into good use in the debate on real problems.

258 BIO Barbara Giza

About the Author

Associate Professor Barbara Giza, Ph.D. – Head, Department of Journalism at SWPS University. Specializes in the history and theory of film as well as journalism and mass media. Her professional interests revolve around current audiovisual culture.

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