What's Contemporary About the Academy Awards?

Edited by Anna Shechtman


Anna Shechtman

The Black and White Art Film in the Age of its Digital Distribution

Alex Weintraub

A 3 Hour Tour . . . A 3 Hour Tour

J. D. Connor


What's "contemporary" about the Academy Awards? Maybe nothing. From the red carpet to the closing credits, the show borrows its choreography from a formula perfected between the 1930s (when it was produced for radio broadcast) and the 1950s (when it premiered on TV). Along this 91-year script of continuity, however, there have been eruptions of the contemporary: iconic fashion firsts and political protests at the dais. But these are largely secondary to a show devoted to the industry's oldness to the grammar and glamour of Old Hollywood. In this mini-cluster, J.D. Connor (USC) and Alex Weintraub (Columbia University) chart very different but complementary approaches toward understanding the production of oldness informing tonight's Academy Awards.

Connor retraces the false steps of the 2019 telecast, finding in the Academy's rebuked and rescinded efforts to update the show a "funhouse mirror reflection of the reshuffled Hollywood studio hierarchy." Attending to the rivalry between Netflix's Roma and Disney's Black Panther (nominated for 10 and 7 awards respectively), he reminds readers that behind the botched telecast update is a monolithic industry that is, despite Netflix, even more resistant to change. Weintraub examines the competition between Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón) and Cold War (dir. Pawel Pawlikowski), both films produced by and for digital streaming platforms and shot in digital black-and-white. He discovers in each filmmaker's manipulation of this outdated aesthetic variously successful efforts to situate their films in the tradition of cinema made for a movie theater and variously successful ruminations on the place of cinema in the post-medium condition.

Anna Shechtman is a PhD Candidate in English Literature and Film & Media Studies at Yale University, where she is working on a history of the media concept in the United States. She is a senior humanities editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and managing editor of Post45. 

Past clusters