Everyone loves to hate the Academy. Each year, the decisions of some 6,000 entertainment industry members get criticized to no end. Whether it is the nominees’ clear lack of diversity, corrupt voting, terrible hosting, staged celebrity exchanges or the relentless snubbing of Leonardo DiCaprio, the Oscars cannot catch a break. This year, the backlash of #OscarsSoWhite was so bad that host Chris Rock said, “I’m only here ‘cause Ellen said no.” Even though most of these criticisms are completely justified, it doesn’t make their arguments any less common. In all of these complaints, something that rarely gets criticized is the Academy’s treatment of comedy. Rarely does comedy get the attention it deserves, but in looking at comedies’ wins and losses, some of these awards shows’ recurring mistakes are explained.
The first big mystery: the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. Every year, it puzzles me what the two genres have in common. The devices that drive these genres are completely different, but when paired together, illustrate the awards show’s low opinion of both. The pairing seems to say that because comedies and musicals have non-traditional devices that drive their narratives, like laughter and music, these devices are lesser than the nominees in the drama category. To be fair, comedies don’t lack attention in this section, because they almost always beat out musicals. Maybe one of the reasons for this oddly paired section is because of the lack of musicals. That might also be a reason why they don’t win more often. But the two shouldn’t be grouped together in the first place.
Then there is the snubbing of comedy films in the Oscars’ Best Picture category. When you look at the winners of Best Picture over the years, comedies rarely win. The comedy movies that have squeaked out wins are usually not purely comedic, but dark comedies or lighter dramas. I personally didn’t burst into laughter while watching “American Beauty” or “Birdman.” The lighter drama nominees are clearly there because they pay strong resemblance to the usual blockbusting, tear-jerking qualities of the usual winners. For example, “Forrest Gump” and “Shakespeare in Love” are two winning comedies that are definitely sappy enough to be remembered for their emotional appeals instead of their laughs.
When you remove these hybrid, questionably comical movies from the small group of Best Picture winners, there are only a handful of true comedies left in almost 90 years of Oscars. It seems that one or both of two problems are happening here: first, the Academy can’t decide what a comedy is, and second, the Academy doesn’t appreciate comedy as art.
The New York Times tried to figure it out in 2012, following the failure of comedy hit “Bridesmaids” to be nominated for Best Picture. In exploring why the Oscars don’t give comedies more respect, they came up with many suggestions. The majority of these suggestions agreed that the Oscars love to reward sadness and gloom. That would explain why movies like “Lost in Translation” won Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, or why the sappier hybrid movies win Best Picture at the Oscars.
If sadness and gloom are vital for a winning comedy, then it seems both problems are at play here. These awards shows clearly don’t care about comedy itself. The Golden Globes dump it in a category with musicals, a completed unrelated genre. Then, the nominees that find a way to escape this section rarely win. On the off chance that they do win, half the time, those movies win because of their emotional appeal (what a coincidence, the main device of dramas!) rather than their comedic expertise. The Academy Awards may have thousands of voters and decades of experience, but they fail to give comedy the respect it deserves.