According to most Oscar observers, this year’s race for the Academy Award for Best Picture came down to a battle between Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. McQueen’s powerful depiction of slavery would have been the frontrunner, most claimed, but for the fact that it was “too intense” and that its reputation was scaring away some voters from even watching it. On its face, this seems absurd. 12 Years A Slave is not a snuff film. It’s a historical drama based on an autobiography. These voters are adults. They’re supposedly interested in cinematic art. Surely they could watch the film and decide for themselves.
Ultimately, 12 Years A Slave did win Best Picture, which would make it seem like whatever reticence existed in the Academy was overblown. But a new article on the Oscars and 12 Years in The Los Angeles Times suggests that it wasn’t. In fact, this passage implies that Oscar observers were 100 percent correct:
“Two Oscar voters privately admitted that they didn’t see 12 Years A Slave, thinking it would be upsetting. But they said they voted for it anyway because, given the film’s social relevance, they felt obligated to do so.”
There’s no shame in not voting for 12 Years A Slave—if you actually watch the movie. (If I had a vote for the Academy Awards, it would not be my first choice for Best Picture.) But voting for any movie without watching it (or not watching it and then not voting for it as a result) out of fear of upsetting your delicate sensibilities is an embarrassment. Granted, this is a small sample size—two votes out of thousands—but who knows how many other Academy members did the same thing and were at least smart enough not to announce their ignorance to the press.
This is why we can’t have nice things; because the most important award for movies is given out by a group whose members can’t be bothered to even watch the nominees. I saw 12 Years A Slave. It was somewhat upsetting. You know what else was upsetting? The monstrous system of slavery, which is still in place in some parts of the world today. A feel-good movie that soft-peddles the facts of the period would be a pointless waste of time. Then again, if these voters are indicative of the Academy as a whole, it might be an Oscar-friendly pointless waste of time.