No Oscars Host: Academy Shame at Failure to Back New Talent
The 91st Academy Awards ceremony is due to take place on Sunday 24th February at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood with no formal host for the first time in three decades. The homophobia scandal that resulted in the ultimate dismissal of the announced emcee, US comedian and film actor Kevin Hart, has provoked an international dialogue regarding the entertainment sensitivities of the 21st century public.
‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show’ on Thursday 3rd January prompted widespread commentary in the global media as the openly homosexual broadcaster and previous Oscars-host strongly urged the Academy to re-consider the firing of Kevin Hart as she interviewed the comedian. During his opening recitation, the publicly-bruised star came close to volunteering an apology but retained his insistence that the real fault lay with ‘online trolls’ who seek to attack him and the fading value of forgiveness that is missing in America. The protestation failed to meet with universal redemption but did highlight a key weakness in the minds of the big entertainers of today.
A string of high-profile performers proceeded to recuse themselves from hosting the Academy Awards. Chris Rock urged the audience at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards that ‘Steve Martin should host the Oscars because I’m not doing it’ adding further that ‘if it was five years ago and I could say something really offensive and funny then maybe. Right now, I can’t do that anymore’. Jada Pinkett Smith told ‘People Now’ magazine that she would be a ‘horrific host’ and a person should know their limitations. Whoopi Goldberg declared on her popular ABC talk show ‘The View’ that she is ‘open’ to doing it again but protested that her politically polarising and ‘problematic’ persona as she put it on the air would be likely to rule her out. Seth Macfarlane, the allegedly fearless creator of Fox’s ‘Family Guy’, remarked to ‘Entertainment Tonight’ about his poorly reviewed and misogynistic turn as emcee by disregarding the ceremony expressing concerns that the spotlight is too bright leaving the host struggling to deliver their best material under heightened scrutiny.
If the big stars are too scared to take their place as Oscars host then I suggest it is time for them to retire from public entertainment and permit younger performers more in keeping with 21st century values to prevail. A recent study by Rajar, discovered that roughly 6 million people in the UK listen to podcasts and two-thirds of them fall into the 16 to 34 age group. Traditional broadcasters have declining ratings for televised spectaculars like the Oscars in the youth demographic that feel conspicuously distanced from such events by the cynical and bitter attitudes of the established generation of arts leaders.
The Daily Beast reported an audio recording of the disgraced stand-up comedian Louis CK performing at the ‘San Jose Comedy Club’. His comeback set regretfully included humour about the victims of a school shooting, disabled children, negative transphobic remarks and his feedback to the reports of his alleged sexual abuse of women. The poor routine was a key instance of a famous rich performer being unable to adapt to a new era and becoming stranded from their audience by misguided attempts to be edgy childishly squandering the huge financial resources and performing opportunities available to them.
Meanwhile, the funding and big breaks for keen young talent are vanishing to nil despite their fine work, for instance, ‘Joy’ - an English improvisation podcast produced on a shoestring and fronted by Rosie Terry Toogood, a cutting-edge dance choreographer, and David Robinson a fine blues guitarist. The project makes a virtue of their budget by taking an art form known recently for worn political debate; and instead making a beautiful set of hilarious vignettes with the two performers sharing the playful romantic chemistry of an arthouse Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Their cleverly made ‘off air moments’, positive notes, love of climax and bonhomie are like an action film produced by spoken word. The excitement is kinetic as is their joy to perform.
The Academy should be ashamed for refusing to fill the stage with emerging talent if bigger hosts cannot be relied upon. The film industry is built upon unlikely storybook happenings and having two niche arts performers from the UK host their biggest night of celebration might captivate the global dialogue, bring in a much-needed younger ratings demographic and be the medicine a recalcitrant and cocksure elder generation of stars needs to regain their enthusiasm. It is a great pity the Academy shall not take risks and has made the damaging decision to opt for an empty stage rather than to full-heartedly embrace younger hosts. If Hollywood does not value it’s young then the young shall find new places to develop their craft. May the ‘Joy’ reign far from Oscars gaze.
Joy by Rosie Terry Toogood and David Robinson
© 2019 Lucy Melly