The fourth Oscars Preview Night, sponsored by the Program in the Humanities and the General Alumni Association, took place last night at the Varsity Theater. At least 70 attendees listened to UNC faculty members Dana Coen and Rachel Schaevitz discuss and critique the film industry and the Oscars.
“Although the Academy Awards have turned into more of a horror story, we are here to enlighten more than to handicap,” Coen said.
Schaevitz started the discussion by saying the roles written for actors and actresses of color were just not there. However, she said this situation has seemingly improved.
“We have the most diverse nomination list this year,” she said. “However, it’s important to note that this is not really a reaction to the #OscarsSoWhite,” Schaevitz said.
The Academy recently extended invitations to 683 new members. Of these 683, 46 percent are women and 41 percent are people of color. However, the entirety of the academy is only 27 percent female and 11 percent people of color with these additions.
“This year’s central topic is our divided political environment,” Coen said. “Corporate Hollywood is becoming increasingly skittish on stories that examine sociopolitical contexts.”
Schaevitz and Coen discussed the role of women and people of color in the industry, while analyzing the hardships that these groups face in the film business.
“Women are grossly underrepresented in film,” Schaevtiz said. In 2015, only 31.4 percent of the roles were available to women, she said.
Schaevitz also discussed the shift in film patterns for movie giants, such as Disney.
“Disney is a megalithic company based on princesses, damsels in distress with love interests,” she said. “Now, many of the movies are featuring strong female characters, not damsels in distress.”
Schaevitz said critics believe the shift to strong independent, female leads reflect people’s desires to accomplish their hopes and dreams, despite hardships. She used the female lead in the film “Zootopia” as an example.
“Judy Hopps has to work twice as hard to prove that bunnies can be cops, too,” she said.
They also discussed films focused around the issue of racism, like “Hidden Figures,” “Loving,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “OJ: Made in America” and more.
“These films focus on the absence of films in the industry that narrate the racial issues in the country,” Coen said.
Coen also asked the audience if they want to watch content that challenges them.
In response to Coen’s question, some audience members expressed that they felt consumer’s preferences and habits for films most likely would not change; they will still watch the fun, comedy films and films that are not seen as thought-provoking or challenging.
“We are being overrun about biopics,” Coen said. “There were many biopics made in 2016. There were stories about Barack Obama, Ray Kroc, Nat Turner, Jacqueline Kennedy, and many of them got made for ‘Oscar bait.’”
“The truth is, Hollywood rarely trusts originality,” Coen said. “Expect biopics to come off the assembly line faster than you can say Jesus Christ — pun intended.”