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We love the Oscars – but we need to talk about those awards ceremony changes

[SCENE: Interior, high school cafeteria. Day. At a table, off on their own, sit GLEN and OSCAR, A GOLDEN NAKED BALD MAN WITH A SWORD, eating their meals in awkward silence. GLEN is working up the courage to say something. OSCAR keeps gazing over GLEN's shoulder around the cafeteria.]

GLEN: Oscar we ... we need to talk.

OSCAR (WAVES AT SOMEONE ACROSS THE WAY): Mm.

GLEN: It's...about how you're treating people lately. People who care about you. People who've always been there for you.

OSCAR: What people? Who are you talking about? (SUDDENLY CONCERNED) Was it Nicole? Benedict? DENZEL? OH GOD TELL ME IT'S NOT DENZEL.

GLEN: No, no. It's not them. Not the popular kids. The jocks, the cheerleaders. The Yearbook and Prom Committees. They're not who I'm talking about.

OSCAR (GREATLY RELIEVED): Oh. (SHRUGS) Who, then? Who else is there?

GLEN: Well I mean...editors, for one.

OSCAR (ROLLS EYES): Here we go.

GLEN: And sound people. And the people who make documentary shorts, animated shorts and live action shorts.

OSCAR: Listen –

GLEN: And original score composers. And hair and makeup people. Hair and makeup people, Oscar! Who even are you, anymore?

OSCAR: You're mad that I disinvited them to my party.

GLEN: Your party, as extra and bloated and overlong as it always is, is the one chance every year a lot of those kids get a moment to shine! To mingle with the popular crowd! You're taking that away from them, and for what?

OSCAR: You know very well, for what.

GLEN: I want to hear you say it.

OSCAR: Fine. Fine. (SIGHS) Look it's nothing personal, but they just ... take up space. Space I could use to attract more people to the party. People who don't care about (WAVES HAND DISMISSIVELY) like, sound or whatever. Honk-shoo! No, I mean normal people, who care about, you know, the glitz and glamor of it all. The nice teeth and bodies and hair and gowns. The people who just want to see all the hot sexy popular kids congratulating each other, laughing and having a great time. More of those people. If that means a few blotchy nerds nobody's ever heard of don't get to bore us all with speeches about their (WRINKLES NOSE) feelings or whatever, so be it.

GLEN: ... You used to be cool, man.

OSCAR: Come on, that's not –

GLEN: No, you know what? I take it back. You were never cool. You were always too swollen with your own self-regard to be cool. Too oblivious. Too tone-deaf.

OSCAR (SCOFFS): I am now, and have always been, cool.

GLEN (STARTS SCROLLING ON PHONE): Do you seriously want me to send your 1989 opening number to your popular friends right now? Because I'll do it. Ah. Here it is. Rob Lowe. Snow White. Oh hey, Merv Griffin, I forgot about the Merv Griffin part. Wow, eleven full minutes. They'll be so impressed. How cool.

OSCAR (QUIETLY, ICILY): Put the phone away. Now.

GLEN: What are you gonna use all this new space for, if you're so willing to ditch these hard-working people?

OSCAR: Well. (PROUDLY) More montages, for one thing.

GLEN (HORRIFIED): More ...?

OSCAR: And tributes. To ourselves, of course. You know: "The Magic of the Movies! Dreams Made of Shadows and Flickering Light! That Big White Screen Is The Window Of Imagination! The Stories We Tell In The Dark That Make Us Laugh! And Cry! And Connect!"

GLEN: Okay.

OSCAR: "Heartbreak Feels Good In A Place Like This!"

GLEN: Okay. What else?

OSCAR: Hilarious comedy!

GLEN: Stale banter.

OSCAR: Funny sketches!

GLEN: Sweaty skits.

OSCAR: Timely jokes!

GLEN: Tired bits.

OSCAR: Alright you know what? I'm just gonna come out and say it. All those people I disinvited? I did that because they make everyone uncomfortable. They take forever to stumble to the podium in their rented tuxes and off-the-rack gowns or, more likely, pantsuits, and then they nervously unfold their speeches and just read from them in these trembly voices and they go on forever in flat, affectless monotones. No showmanship! No pizzazz! No charisma! So what I'm doing, see, is making sure everyone who gets the spotlight at my party can really sell it! Can nail the precise acceptance-speech fuel mixture everyone is looking for – 12% disbelief, 15% modesty, 33% gratitude, 40% joy.

GLEN: You're worried.

OSCAR: Pfft, no I'm not.

GLEN: You're worried, because you're not as popular as you used to be. Oh, Jessica and Javier and Steven and Jane and the rest of the popular kids will come to your party, they always will. But attendance has been dropping for years now. You're not getting as many people through the door, so you're doing what you think you need to do to entice them back.

OSCAR: Well, so what? Everyone wants to be popular.

GLEN: No, you want to be popular. Everyone else – like those editors, sound people, makers of short films, composers, hair and makeup folks – they just want to be seen. It's different.

OSCAR (SNIFFS AIRILY): I don't follow.

GLEN: No, you wouldn't. Look, when you go chasing after only those people who want the gowns and the big awards, you're chasing after people who don't ... who don't care about you. Not really. Not truly. Not ... (DEEP, VULNERABLE BREATH) ... not like I do. Me, and people like me.

OSCAR: You just don't want me to have more friends. You're jealous.

GLEN: I just want you to be you. And face it, you're not only the big, glitzy awards. Stop pretending you are. That awkwardness you're trying to leave behind? It's a part of you, it's in your bones, Oscar, and it always has been. Those sweat-soaked, carefully unfolded acceptance speeches delivered so nervously? They're you, at your most human, most relatable, most alive. Most of us watching will never have the confidence or the poise or the cheekbones or the body-fat-percentage of the nominees in the main categories. But we can and do glimpse ourselves in, say, a couple of anxious nerds in out-of-date eyeglass frames who unexpectedly win for their creepy-as-hell stop-motion animated short film about Baba Yaga's pet rat snake or whatever, and then have to get up to thank their moms in front of Angelina Jolie and Will Smith.

OSCAR: This is ... just sad, what you're doing right now.

GLEN: You know who got nominated or won for short films, before they went on to more widely known work? People like Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor:Ragnarok). David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Inventing Anna). Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Mad Men). Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray). Ismail Merchant (Howards End, A Room with a View).

OSCAR: Keep flailing away. It's amusing.

GLEN: And when you deny composers and editors their moment, you're just blithely ignoring two of the most fundamental aspects of filmmaking – two things uniquely responsible for a film's shape, its mood, its essence.

OSCAR (WAVES AT JANE CAMPION, MOUTHS "CALL ME!"): Uh-huh.

GLEN: And not letting hair and makeup people get their moment? Actual craftspeople, artisans, professionals who direct their efforts to ensure that every character in a film looks and feels seamlessly real – or uh, seamlessly unreal, depending on the movie, I suppose?

OSCAR: You're losing the thread. Wrap it up.

GLEN: You tried to pull this nonsense once before, and took it back. That was the right thing to do, because it meant you had enough self-respect not to try to twist yourself into something you're not, and never could be. Do it again. Invite them all. Stand your ground. Ignore the network. Ignore the ratings. Go long. End at two o'clock in the morning! Three! Until the sun comes up over Hollywood Boulevard!

OSCAR: I've outgrown you. That's the issue here. You, and all your schlubby loser Oscar- watcher pals who go out to bars with each other just to moan about the times I snubbed Madeline Kahn or Cicely Tyson. My new friends (BLOWS KISS AT KENNETH BRANAGH) are my real friends. They'd never try to hold me back, like you're doing right now. From realizing my full potential.

GLEN: Don't do this. If you do, it won't stop. You're gonna turn around one day and find that you're suddenly a half-hour highlight reel that's been shunted to Disney+, where no one will ever find you. You'll be buried seven levels deep in the user interface, because you caved to the pressure. Mark my words.

OSCAR: Welp. This has been grand. Bye. (STANDS, WALKS OVER TO A TABLE OF SUPPORTING ACTOR NOMINEES). Hey b*tches!

GLEN (SHOUTS AFTER HIM): And while you're at it, invite stunt performers! And casting agents! (LOUDER) And anyway the reason they take so long to get to the podium is because you sit them all in the back! FYI! So, you know ... work on that! (SIGHS. RUBS EYES). What a tool. (SOFTLY) And yet, I ... I love him. There, I said it. I can't help it. I love him, despite it all. Despite everything. Despite montages, despite Merv. I love that shiny, pompous, self-involved jerk of a popularity contest. He'll see it, one day. And he'll come back to me. To us. I know he will.

OSCAR (SHOUTS ACROSS CAFETERIA): Really won't! (TURNS TO NEW TABLE-MATES) SWAG BAGS FOR EVERYONE!


This first appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations on what's making us happy.

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