Every creative field, from advertising to publishing to the film and television industry, is awards obsessed. A couple of weeks ago the Oscar nominees were announced. To the consternation of many, for the second year in a row, no actors of color were recognized by The Academy. Zero. This was a complete and thorough snubbing. To the black, Latino, Asian actors and filmmakers who felt personally snubbed this year, I say congratulations. You are in very good company.
There are many outstanding actors who never received an Academy Award. This list includes Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Samuel L. Jackson, Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Will Smith, Robert Downey Jr., and many others.
Legendary films that have been snubbed by The Academy for Best Picture include Pulp Fiction, Raging Bull, Fargo, Citizen Kane, Goodfellas, Zero Dark Thirty, Being Llewyn Davis, and many, many others.
In fact, if we use time and taste as a measuring stick for what truly survives as transformative or influential or momentous, The Academy’s track record sort of sucks. Maybe these guys just don’t know what they’re talking about.
Maybe that’s why George C. Scott turned down his Oscar for Patton. He thought actors were artists and one shouldn’t win an award over another for “pretending better,” something that can’t be measured.
Maybe that’s part of the reason Marlon Brando didn’t accept his for The Godfather, not just because of “the way we’ve treated Native Americans.”
Maybe that’s why Woody Allen, the most nominated screenwriter in Academy history, never bothered to attend (except for an appearance after 9/11 to plea for support for New York City.) Woody has recounted a story from his childhood, when Marlon Brando and the groundbreaking classic On The Waterfront lost to the syrupy and formulaic Marty. Allen explains that at that moment, he realized “the contest was rigged” and “it meant nothing.” That in the future, winning an Oscar would do nothing “to make his life more pleasurable.” That he’d rather sit in the comfort of his own home watching the Knicks than attend “that farce.”
To those who didn’t get recognized this year by the same group that couldn’t see the greatness in Cary Grant, On The Waterfront or Goodfellas, I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. You’re in better company than you’d have ever been in at the ceremony.
And the lesson for those of us in advertising, especially anyone who devotes their entire career to picking up awards hardware? What is great and what is art cannot be determined by any Academy or jury or judge. Only time will tell, and time will be kinder to those that are unfairly snubbed than those that are unfairly rewarded. Anyone who creates for a living – whether it’s in films, shows, plays, fine art or advertising – needs to remember that fact. The joy is in the doing, not in the winning.
It’s just a cheap trophy. (Maybe that’s why I have such disdain for those in our industry whom I call “Cocktail Party Creatives,” the types who run and hide when the work is being done but can’t get their tux out of mothballs quickly enough when there are trophies to be picked up and photos to be snapped.)