07 Mar Did Film Twitter ruin the fun of the Oscars?
It’s been said before, and it’s being said again – this awards season was unlike any other. It was filled with constant changes in direction. A new frontrunner emerged in several categories after every award show, sending us prognosticators scrambling to amend our predictions. But an even stranger thing happened this year – a wave of new Oscar watchers emerged on Twitter, and, to be frank, they made this season utterly hellish.
Film Twitter is the ultimate double-edged sword for lovers of cinema in the 21st century. If you don’t know what Film Twitter is, you’re probably not a part of it. Perhaps that’s a good thing. The name is fairly self-explanatory, but, in essence, Film Twitter is the term given to the Twitter community who predominantly tweet about movies, the film industry, and, towards the end of the year, awards season.
It’s an eclectic bunch of tweeters from all over the globe, comprising film fans, film critics, entertainment journalists, bloggers, vloggers, and some who actually work in the film industry. Now, once upon a time, this community was an inclusive and welcoming space for film buffs to chat amongst themselves, have friendly discussions about what films they loved or didn’t love, and what they thought might win at the next Academy Awards. But something changed this year, and that once-charming oasis turned into an absolute nightmare.
Let me take you back a few decades to attempt to ascertain how we got here. I’ve been watching the Academy Awards since I was 8-years-old. Ever since then, I’ve obsessed over these awards, much to the confusion of those around me. Back in those days, we didn’t get the Oscars shown live in Australia. Every year, it was an agonising day of waiting until 7:30pm that evening to finally watch the awards. And it was a minefield trying to get through the day without any spoilers.
It got so bad, I actually started taking the day off school, so I could avoid all talk of the ceremony until it was time to watch. Not that the Oscars were a big topic of discussion on the playground, but why risk it? In later years, it became a leave-day off work instead. It was always an unspoken understanding between myself and any employer that Oscar Day was Doug’s day off. Much to my joy, in the early 2000s, we finally received a live broadcast of the awards, so I could enjoy the ceremony like any other Oscar fan.
The reason I mention this little piece of history about myself is to illustrate how lonely that first decade ultimately was. No one around me cared about the Academy Awards quite like I did. My family attempted to understand, but it wasn’t really their thing. My friends couldn’t care less that Juliette Binoche just shockingly beat Lauren Bacall for Best Supporting Actress. And, of course, this was a time before social media, so there was no one to share in the madness of the ceremony. That all changed in the year 2000.
I can’t recall how I stumbled across it, but somehow, I found my way to a website called Oscarwatch (now known as Awards Daily, after a lawsuit from the Academy over the use of the word “Oscar”). To my joy, there was the discovery I had been desperately searching for – someone else who closely followed the Oscars as much as I did. The site’s founder and head writer Sasha Stone and her brilliant observations of the Oscar race were my first introduction to the idea of there being a community of “awards watchers.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone. Finally it seemed okay to obsess over the Academy Awards.
Since then, Awards Daily has grown to include further great voices to follow in Ryan Adams, Marshall Flores, and Jazz Tangcay. And the overall community has expanded to dozens of other websites, including Gold Derby, Awards Watch, Awards Circuit, and The Next Best Picture. And we’re now blessed with many sublime journalists who cover the race like Scott Feinberg, Anne Thompson, Kris Tapley, Mark Harris, and Tomris Laffly, to name just a few. For an awards watcher like me, they all have provided much solace, great advice, and a true sense of community.
Then along came Twitter, and for a while there, it was a wonderful addition to the chaos of awards season. We’d share our predictions and thoughts on the race, which always invited healthy and lively discussions. We’d follow each ceremony together, and share our live reactions and summations. We’d playfully tease each other, if someone made a crazy claim or wacky forecast. There was gentle ribbing of those who got it wrong. And we celebrated those that got it right. Those were the early days, which, after the last few years, seem like a distant memory.
As Film Twitter has grown into a “thing,” it’s seen the addition of many new voices to the awards race. In some ways, that’s a wonderful thing. Following the Oscar race is not an exclusive club, and if more wish to join the journey, we are more than happy to have them onboard. But this season, things got ugly very quickly. It seems those new followers weren’t particularly used to how this game unfolds, and the attacks against those who dared share their thoughts on the race became extremely nasty and often completely unfounded.
As I tweeted back in January, it seemed many were unfamiliar with the idea that awards predictions were not a personal attack on the films or performances themselves, but merely observations on the race, based on a place of knowledge and experience. If a certain “Oscar pundit” wasn’t picking a certain nominee to win, it was not a comment on that nominee’s greatness or worthiness. This is just what we do. We have to make predictions which are generally based on precursor awards, historical precedents, and even sometimes just general gut instinct.
When you’ve followed the Academy Awards for such a long time, you begin to understand the game, to some degree. You quickly learn how often the eventual winner has very little to do with the film or performance itself. Yes, it has to be “good” enough to get in the game. However, from there, it’s a complicated and arduous task to become the eventual winner. That’s unfortunately why Oscar campaigning has become such an important factor in winning. And that’s where these predictions come from. These people know a thing or two about the ins and outs of the Oscar race.
But try explaining this to the inexperienced members of Film Twitter. This year, it seems everywhere you looked, someone was rage-tweeting against an Oscar watcher, purely because they didn’t agree with whatever this certain person was predicting. This was no longer gentle ribbing. This was getting personal. It was getting childish. It was getting ugly. And it was getting very hateful. It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s thoughts. It’s entirely another to start throwing some pretty serious judgements their way.
For the most part, I managed to escape the most brutal of attacks. But here’s just one personal story to illustrate my point. After the Academy announced their nominations, I casually pointed out that, given Call Me by Your Name had now missed several key Oscar categories (Director, Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Cinematography, Score), its Best Picture chances were all but over. This enraged the so-called “Call Me by Your Name mafia,” and several people accused me of being homophobic, stated the film clearly “wasn’t for someone like me,” and, in far more vulgar terms, told me to never tweet again. All because I shared a thought regarding a film’s Oscar chances.
Now, there are several things blindingly wrong with these accusations. First of all, I am a gay man, so calling me “homophobic” is the most absurd oxymoron you’ll ever hear. Secondly, I gave Call Me by Your Name a 5-star review, after flying to another state in Australia in October, just to be amongst the first to see it. For the record, that wasn’t the sole reason I flew to the Adelaide Film Festival, but it was a big part. And thirdly, I had written a piece pleading the case for the Academy to perhaps consider Timothée Chalamet for Best Actor over Gary Oldman. But let’s not allow any of that to get in a way of a good piece of Twitter-bashing.
This pales in comparison to the relentless hatred many people experienced this year. If you predicted Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, you were automatically accused of being a racist. If you didn’t predict Get Out, you were also a racist. If you didn’t love Lady Bird and fawn over Greta Gerwig, you were a sexist or anti-feminist. If you weren’t a fan of Call Me by Your Name, yep, just like me, apparently you were a homophobe. In any other area of life, these are some pretty serious accusations to make. Accusations which people outside the Film Twitter bubble generally don’t make lightly. But, behind the safety of a keyboard, these allegations were flying at people, on a daily basis.
That’s not to say there aren’t people who are absolutely racist, sexist, misogynist, and homophobic to certain pieces of cinema. But that has absolutely zero to do with making predictions on a beauty pageant like the Academy Awards. If anything, they could simply be making these predictions based on the very real fact there are indeed still people in Hollywood who are racist, sexist, and homophobic. It’s reading the likelihood of a certain outcome. It does not mean that person agrees with how that outcome comes to fruition. Those are two very succinctly different things.
And it didn’t get much better after the awards themselves were announced, with Film Twitter having a meltdown over this year’s chosen winners. There were cries of homophobia over Timothée Chalamet’s Best Actor loss, despite the fact Chalamet himself isn’t gay and he’s only 22, meaning he’s very likely to win in the not-too-distant future. People suggested the Best Picture victory of The Shape of Water was a loss for diversity, given Get Out failed to achieve an upset win. Never mind the fact The Shape of Water is co-written and directed by a Hispanic man, co-written by a woman, and features a narrative involving a disabled woman who’s best friends are a gay man and a black woman. Evidently, this was the wrong kind of diversity.
They howled over Lady Bird walking away with absolutely nothing, despite the fact we were all predicting this would happen, and pleading with them to remember it didn’t lessen how great the film really was. Dig a little deeper, kids, and you’ll realise many great movies have walked away from the Oscars empty-handed. You think it’s tough seeing Lady Bird lose five awards? Try seeing American Hustle lose ten of them. Ten. Or witnessing Roger Deakins lose Best Cinematography 13 times over the last 24 years. You think you had it tough this year? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
When their precious favourites didn’t win, Film Twitter threw a tantrum and decided to declare the Oscars to be completely irrelevant and totally out of touch, and the Academy were, of course, a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic assholes. You can only assume they wouldn’t be saying this, had things gone their way. The Shape of Water was ridiculously deemed the “safe choice,” despite the fact it’s easily one of the boldest Best Picture decisions the Academy has ever made. But it didn’t fit Film Twitter’s dream scenario, and so, it must be taken down.
And that was the biggest problem this season. To champion their predictions and contenders, Film Twitter had to destroy whatever else that film or performance was up against. There’s a huge difference between fighting for your predictions and just being horrendously petty. I’m happy to admit I didn’t love several nominees this year. A few winners too. But you won’t hear me bashing their nominations or victories. It’s entirely unnecessary. It’s ridiculous this even needs saying, but you can celebrate what you love without hating on what you don’t. To the majority of Academy members, whatever won this year was their choice, and that’s fine. That’s how this game works, folks.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just limited to awards season. Film Twitter can rear its ugly head throughout the course of the entire year, especially towards film critics. When you write a review they don’t agree with, they come for you, pitchforks blazing. Try writing a less-than-positive review of a DC movie and see what happens. I did that for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and was told to kill myself by several people. I wish I were joking. Strangely, it doesn’t just occur with negative reviews. Positive reviews anger Film Twitter just as badly, with accusations of critics receiving studio bribes to say positive things about a Marvel or Star Wars movie. You simply can’t win.
So, I beg of Film Twitter to step away from their angry tweeting for a second and listen. Film is a subjective art form. Everyone reacts to it differently. That’s the beauty of it. Consequently, an awards ceremony honouring that art form is also going to be full of subjective choices. Or choices swayed by shrewd campaigning. Or a matter of timing. Or because a nominee threw a phone at someone. Sometimes, you will agree with those decisions. A lot of the time, you won’t. When you find yourself on the losing side, it’s always bound to hurt. But, as T.E. Lawrence once said, the trick is not minding that it hurts.
The point of this article is not to put Film Twitter off joining the discussion of the Oscar race next year. The once-lonely feelings I felt 20-odd years ago are now gone, thanks to how large and diverse the awards watcher online community has become. The more the merrier. But my wish for next season is for a little more decorum, a little more dignity, and a little more respect for others, particularly those who’ve been in this game longer than you have. Most of us were still able to have enjoyable and enlightening Oscar discussions on Twitter this season. But with such an open playing field like social media, there’s always some jerk who comes along to ruin the fun for everyone. Don’t be that jerk next year.
As I said in my Oscars wrap-up, at the end of the day, it’s always extremely difficult to watch something you love fail to win an Academy Award. We all understand the pain Film Twitter is feeling right now. We’ve all been there. Some of us many, many times. It’s an unavoidable consequence of getting so involved in awards season. A consequence we all had to accept, at some point. With the great joy of seeing something you love win comes the deep disappointment you experience when it doesn’t. And that’s especially true when it comes to Best Picture.
Of the last 90 years of Best Picture winners, I’d say less than half were the film I personally would have chosen. That’s how rare it is to see your favourite film of the year win Best Picture. It does not happen every year. It doesn’t even happen every 2nd year. You’re lucky to get it once in a decade. If you’re expecting the Academy to always agree with your personal choices, you’re in for a very difficult journey ahead.
So, if you’re unhappy with this year’s Academy Award results, either get used to it or, to quote Jordan Peele, get out!