From giant humanoid Cats costumes to Frozen 2 Elsa medleys, the 2020 Academy Awards felt like one misstep away from a strange fever dream you have after eating too much sugar before a late afternoon nap.
Living in an era of pop culture that’s obsessed with viral views and falsely relatable celebrities, “wacky” moments like these are designed to garner clicks and internet traffic, but however hard The Academy tried, this year’s viewership for the award show was at a record-breaking low with a 20% (6 million) viewership drop from 2019.
Despite having huge box office hits like Parasite, Joker, and Little Women in the running for “Best Picture,” some have attributed this year’s viewership “flop” to The Academy’s lack of recognition for the performances and production of the horror films Us and Midsommar, which were released in early Spring/Summer of 2019.
Since The Academy Awards debut in 1929, only six horror films have competed for the recognition of “Best Picture”: The Exorcist (1974), Jaws (1976), The Silence of the Lambs (1992), The Sixth Sense (1999), Black Swan (2011), and Get Out (2017). Only The Silence of the Lambs was awarded the title.
From the early beginnings of horror films, the genre has delighted in reflecting societal fears and anxieties of the time with a dramatic twist, like a haunted mirror that shows your reflection, but something you can’t quite place is off.
Once the Great Depression and World War II began, the iconic monsters we know today were brought to life on the silver screen. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy, all Universal Studios monsters that represented the fear of an unstoppable entity attacking America.
In the 1950s it was the fear of invasion and atomic war that inspired films where radiation affected the births grotesque monsters that could absorb a nation whole. The 1960s and 70s presented the public with an age of film that’s believed to house, what some have speculated, are the greatest horror films ever made, with portrayals of the demonization of the African American civil rights movement and rampant consumerism in the form of the now-classic zombie movies, and the literal slaughtering of the image of the “perfect American family” in the form of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Exorcist.
With the consuming fear of terrorism following 9/11, the term “virus” caught the 2000s horror industry by the throat and the film market was once again dominated by zombie films, showcasing massive groups of radical versions of everyday people seeking the destruction of America. The 2010s were more subtle in their “fears”, with the rise of technology and social media overruling social circumstances, titles like It Follows, The Babadook, and A Quiet Place reflect a society that struggles with communication.
Jordan Peele’s 2017 “Best Original Screenplay” winning film Get Out is a perfect example of this, whilst also being reflective of the “fake white ally-ship” following the Black Lives Matter movement. The white family representing society is coercing a black man with lies to appease him, making them believe he is equal to them, only for the basement door to open and reveal the sinister truth of fetishization, appropriation, and bigotry.
In the context of Peele’s latest film, Us, he told The Mirror “I have a definite world of things that I’m trying to say with this film, all relating to our duality as human beings and the guilt and sins that we bury deep within ourselves and I’m curious to see what the audience sees in it,” talking about how the characters are meant to reflect the individual audience member instead of one societal sin.
Regarding Ari Aster’s Midsommar, it was a reflection of his heartbreak and the refreshment following becoming independent with yourself and your feelings, being reborn from the whole experience as it’s a part of life, which is what the festival shown in the movie is all about.
With both Us and Midsommar being critically and commercially successful in 2019, many horror and general film buffs were anticipating the nominations to roll in for the films and their leading actresses Lupita Nyong’o (Us) and Florence Pugh (Midsommar) who both delivered intense, emotionally contrasting performances.
But most appreciators of the genre were not surprised by the disregard from The Academy, because though horror films are popular, they are not highly regarded by The Academy’s standards and are overlooked for being seen as “unserious” works. However, this logic is flawed as horror films have been some of the best media representations of some of the most prevalent instances in American history.
Despite the failure to recognize these two films, The Academy attempted to satiate multiple public outcries, including Us and Midsommar’s snubs, in the form of Janelle Monae’s opening musical performance with the back-up dancers dressed in costumes inspired by unrepresented films like Dolemite Is My Name, Queen & Slim, and Us and Midsommar. But the performance was received negatively, being seen as a little too late, and ultimately pointless since the movies weren’t recognized anyway.
With celebrities becoming more vocal about The Academy’s lack of representation, we, the public, also need to make sure that we push for change and stay vocal, and not settling for token nominations and minor cameos during a song performance. These movies deserve to be recognized, and not be ignored purely for their genre.