Why Do Film & Television Awards Matter?
I recently wrote an article about the diversity of the acting nomination slates for both The Golden Globes and SAG awards this year. It did not get nearly as much attention as an earlier article I wrote about Netflix's funding and distribution activities. It's certainly possible that it was just an anomaly of some kind or I released the article at the wrong time or something. But on the off-chance it is because people just don't care that much about awards shows, I wanted to address that. I also just recently found out that The Oscars are updating their Best Picture eligibility requirements for next year's ceremony, focusing on the diversity of both the cast and the staff.
I was pleasantly surprised by this decision. Just as I was when the Academy made other changes in recent years in attempts to ensure more diverse slates of nominees across all categories. I don't want to give too much credit, because there is certainly more they could do, but I want to acknowledge it because it illustrates that they recognize the power and influence awards hold in the film and television lifecycle.
Why do Awards Shows matter? Because they are one of the most powerful marketing tools available. If you get nominated, you are pretty much guaranteed a financial boost for your film or show. Which means a studio that got that reward from a writer or director before is more likely to fund their next project. Additionally, nominated cast and crew are more likely to be hired in the future. It is a cycle that feeds itself.
The issue we often see is studios, those funding the largest projects, and distributors, often the same as the studio, but not always, are caught in a loop of investing in the same people and types of projects over and over because that was historically what brought them success. When called out for not putting enough money or effort behind women or People of Color or queer stories, they can claim, "we can't justify backing a project that won't make us as much money. We're a business after all." However, they are ignoring that it could be, and likely is, their lack of investment in the first place that is leading to poorer performance.
So how do we break the cycle? A lot of things need to happen. I believe making sure there is more representation in studio leadership is a huge part of this. But that is going to take a long time to rectify because there are so many entrenched old white men in those positions and it is more likely they will hire and groom people who remind them of themselves. We are starting to see people with resources building their own studios to tell more diverse stories and to show that with the proper investment, those stories will exceed financial expectations. But again that is reliant on someone with the right motivations having enough money and wherewithal to create the studio in the first place.
There is also the distribution and marketing piece. Similarly to production funding, under resourced films and shows look like they are not moneymakers, when in reality if they were given the same amount of effort as others, they would make the same, if not more. There are studies that illustrate that women directed films and films with more diverse casts do have better ROI, on average. How does one change the mind of a person who has been convinced of something incorrect by a self-fulfilling prophecy? That is tough.
So where else can the cycle be broken, or at least altered a bit? Awards. This is not the ideal spot to shift the cycle, but it is the one that is not as stuck in the rut of its own creation. If awards nominations are a key to ensuring a boost in revenue and they require a certain minimum amount of diversity to secure that nomination, then they are inherently forcing the hand of the very people who hold all the power when it comes to funding and hiring. Once the studios make the required changes, they will likely see there are other financial benefits to doing so, beyond just the boost from the awards, and this might lead to better decision-making overall. It is not guaranteed, but it is certainly possible.
Awards-givers have power and influence, and thus it is their responsibility to try to use it for good. It is obvious that they are going to continue to make mistakes and be slow to act. They are going to disappoint as much as they succeed, however the key is that they continue to try to do better. Especially if they are some of the only entertainment industry power brokers who are trying to make change at all.