Oscar: Most Important Prize–Why??? Part Two

Part Two in a Series of Two Articles
 
The importance of the Oscars goes beyond the film world, the Hollywood movie industry, and American TV. The Oscars are now universally embraced as global symbols of achievement and success. A combination of reasons account for that. Part One discussed the significance of such factors as: longevity of the Oscar, Scope, prestige, peer recognition, scarcity of awards (compared to the Emmys or Grammys), and the notion of individual competition, which is integral to American culture and the American Way of Life.
 

No National/Political Borders?

The Oscar is awarded to film artists of all nationalities. As my book, All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, shows, about one fourth of the nominees have been foreign artists. This international dimension extends the visibility of the Oscar and contributes to its prestige. And the Oscar’s prestige in turn makes for intense international competition. The scarcity of awards and the intense competition among filmmakers of all nationalities, have made the Oscar all the more desirable. Whereas other national industries distinguish between local and foreign achievements, the only Oscar category specifically designed to honor foreign achievements is the Best Foreign?Language Picture.
 
            Immense Impact
 
The immense effects, both symbolic and pragmatic, on the winning films and winning artists, is another unique feature of the Oscars. Unlike the prestigious Nobel Prize, there is no financial honorarium, though the Oscar’s economic worth is extraordinary: the winners’ salaries skyrocket overnight! Winning an Oscar means hard cash at the box office: The Best Picture Award can add up to twenty to thirty million dollars in tickets sales. Winning the lead acting award can add four to six million dollars to a film’s profitability. Hilary Swank’s Best Actress nomination for Boys Don’t Cry almost doubled the film’s grosses, and Halle Berry’s Oscar did the same for Monster’s Ball.
 
            Domestic Vs. Global Impact
 
The Oscars are visible and influential in both the domestic and global markets. Now-a-days, foreign box?office receipts amount to more than half of movies’ overall grosses. Along with prestige and money, the Oscar winners also gain negotiating power for better roles with better directors, and they also enjoy increased popularity outside the film industry and outside the United States.
 
No other entertainment award has such comparable effects. The Emmys are the least influential for the very reason that reruns of Emmy?winning programs, unlike re-releases of Oscar?winning films, cannot add more money. As for the Tonys, many of the winning productions are no longer running by the time of the ceremonies. However, winning a Tony for Best Play or Best Musical is more important for commercial appeal than winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama or the New York Drama Critics Award. In 1978, The Wiz, the all?black musical that opened to lukewarm reception, became a long?running show after winning the Best Musical Tony. Plays that received favorable reviews, such as The Elephant Man and Children of a Lesser God, became more successful at the box office after winning Best Play in their respective years.
 
The Grammys do have an impact on record sales. Quincy Jones’s 1982 album “The Dude” hit the top ten after winning five Grammys. The 1981 Grammy?winning album of songwriter?singer Christopher Cross leaped back up the charts and eventually sold more than four million copies, compared to the two million sale prior to winning. Still, these figures do not begin to compare to the financial bonanza of Oscar?winning films.
 
 
            Most Popular Award
           
            The four showbiz awards divide the calendar year, with one big event every season: The Oscar show takes place in the lat winter/early spring (it used to be late March, now it’s late February), the Tonys in the early summer (first week of June), the Emmys in the fall (mid-September), and the Grammys in the winter (early February). However, the Oscar telecast is the most popular event. 
 
            The Oscar’s preeminence in the entertainment world is enhanced through extensive coverage in all the media: print and radio in the first two decades, and television in the last fifty years. This media blitz is not confined to the United States: the Oscar show is a popular TV program, watched live or on tape by over one billion people in over 170 countries.
 
            Every profession is stratified, though some more sharply than others. In acting, the inequality in rewards (money, prestige, popularity, power) between the elite and the rank?and?file is particularly sharp. There are three relevant audiences and three corresponding evaluations in the film world: evaluation by peers, evaluation by critics, and evaluation by the public. The first evaluation is internal to the film world, whereas the other two are external or outside the industry. However, all three evaluations are important because they operate at the same time, and each exerts some impact on the film world.
 
Most film artists, particularly actors, aim at achieving two distinct goals in their careers: professional attainment as defined by peers and critics, and a broader commercial popularity, as determined by the general public. Actors are aware of the potential conflicts in fulfilling these goals. They know that to be respected by peers and critics is one thing; to be popular, quite another. In film, more than in other arts, outsiders, namely moviegoers, exercise power over artists’ careers. By choosing to see a particular film or a particular actor, the public determines not only their present status, but also their chances to work in the future.
 
            What makes the Oscar such an influential award is its combination of all three evaluations. Through the Oscar, the Academy voters function as peers, as critics, and as tastemakers. No other award so well combines the usually disparate critical and popular judgment. The Oscar is the only award to exert a direct, pervasive influence on every element of the film world: the movies, their filmmakers, and their audiences.