When Louis B. Mayer founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1929, his goal was to create an unbiased, all-inclusive award show in the spirit of film. Unfortunately, the Academy Awards have not been inclusive and are political and biased. The Academy consistently votes for comedies, dramas and musicals, but the one genre they don’t recognize is horror. Year after year, countless dramas take home the big awards, but when a horror film wins, it is like a lunar eclipse. People have ignored horror because of its camp-filled roots and that precedent needs to expire because the horror genre has come a long way as an art form since the 1980s.
Horror has evolved, but the Academy has not
Many people think that horror is just an excuse for blood, but it’s actually a way to convey emotions, create allegory, and evoke the feeling of dread. A film like The Shining is truly a work of art and shows a deep understanding of important themes like privilege, domestic violence, and addiction. The Shining provides a different experience for everyone who watches it; it means something different to everyone because of how open it is for interpretation. However, the mainstream media tends to think of horror films as being uncomplicated stories of a killer murdering dumb teenagers for no reason until “the Final Girl” outsmarts the killer and ends up killing him. That preconception has its origins in cheesy 80s movies, but modern horror has evolved as a new way to tell stories in a metatextual fashion. In the last twenty years, filmmakers in this genre have proven their ability to shed light on issues that have been largely ignored by mainstream cinema. Issues like racism, sexism, and assault are depicted in these films in order to evoke terror in the audience by showing how twisted the real world is. Meanwhile, the Academy has shown no interest in even acknowledging these issues by instead honoring films like Green Book, in which a white man is portrayed as a hero and saves a black man. Horror has evolved, but the Academy has not. Moreover, when horror occasionally wins at the Oscars, there is always a catch.
When Horror Movies Do Win
When horror movies do end up winning, it is almost always for awards like “Best Costume Design” or “Best Visual Effects.” According to storiesforghosts.com, 10 horror movies have won effects or costume-related awards. Every single year dramas win other more prestigious awards, which reveals bias. The only horror movie to win an Academy Award for Best Picture was the 1991 classic The Silence of the Lambs. That was 29 years ago. We need to understand that this is a genre that has and will be used for telling masterful stories. In today’s society, a movie about a failing marriage (Marriage Story) gets nominated six times, but a movie about racial profiling told as a story of a family going to Santa Cruz (US) gets no nominations simply because it belongs to the horror genre.
What Was Snubbed
At the most recent 2020 Academy Awards, The Lighthouse (a horror film) was nominated for achievement in cinematography but lost to 1917, an action film. In my opinion, The Lighthouse was cinematically brilliant and deserved this award, but the real problem was that the 2019 film US was totally snubbed at the Oscars. The film entails the story of a family going on a vacation to Santa Cruz California. Once they arrive, a dark secret about the mother (Lupita Nyong’o) is revealed when doppelgangers of her family emerge hellbent to kill them. On the surface level, this film is a scary bloodfest, but on a deeper level, it serves as a story of distrust, acceptance, and guilt, and suggests that we are our own worst enemy. It appears that when it comes to horror, the Academy does not pay attention to the nuances and small details. US was not nominated for any Academy awards, even though the writing exceeds levels of metatextuality last tapped into in the silver age of horror back in the ’90s. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is masterful and very impressive; she plays two different people: the mother and her doppelganger. These two performances are vastly different, and Lupita Nyong’o portrays these characters in such a brilliant way that it is unfathomable she was not nominated for an Academy Award. This demonstrates that an amazing performance in a horror movie will be overlooked for an award because of institutional bias. But the neglect of horror by the Academy does have some logic to it.
On the other hand
The Academy members are aging out, and this helps us understand their bias against horror. According to hollywoodreporter.com, the average member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is 62 years old. According to health.harvard.edu, the prime age of memory for a human being is your 20s. Why is this important? When the average member of the Academy was in their 20s, horror was sexually explicit, gore obsessed, and terribly written. With this in mind, it is easy to understand the Academy’s prejudice against the horror genre. Now horror movies have evolved, but the memory of films like The Slumber Party Massacre (which is objectively bad in terms of writing, direction, and acting) have understandably left a bad taste in the Academy’s mouth. Horror definitely has a bad reputation, but it’s the Academy’s job to keep up with the times and give awards to movies that deserve recognition and represent the changing culture of film and the world.
Ultimately, the horror genre has been neglected for too long and deserves more recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the artform that it is. Using horror, filmmakers can tell inspiring and important stories that transcend the confines of traditional storytelling—movies that could not be made if it was not for the artistic brilliance of allegory. As an audience, we have to support independent projects because if the Academy won’t, then it falls on our shoulders to let storytelling be accessible to anyone who wants to say something important. In addition, the best way to get important ideas into the mainstream conscience is via the art of film. The horror genre does this in the most skilled way because audiences don’t realize they have received this message since it is so cleverly masked. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should give horror the attention it deserves, but in reality, it is not about the award, it’s all about the experience. In the immortalized words of Alfred Hitchcock, “Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”