Listen to Joey and AkiDearest's discussion on why anime films get no Oscar love:
In the latest episode of The Anime Show, Joey and Aki talk 2018 Oscar nominations and their gripes over the snubbing of several critically-acclaimed 2017 anime films like Your Name and A Silent Voice in favour of Western animated films like The Boss Baby. It's not just anime films being snubbed, no anime shorts received a nomination in the Animated Short Film category either.
So, why don't anime films get more Oscar nominations?
The Academy Awards have historically been resistant to the idea of animated films being nominated for Oscars, primarily due to the lack of animated films being produced during the event's first few decades. Rather than nominate animated films in regular Oscar categories, special Oscars were presented to those animated movies that warranted the attention, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
It all changed when the Best Animated Feature category was introduced in 2001 and there was hope that this would be the spark that would give a spotlight to animated works, particularly animated works from other countries like Japan. But since 2001, there has only been one Oscar-winning anime film (Spirited Away in 2002) and only five other films landing nominations (Howl's Moving Castle, The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, When Marnie Was There, and The Red Turtle).
The initial optimism for more Oscar attention for anime films didn't materialise after 2001, and this lack of representation has been bubbling under the surface. Everything came to the forefront when the 2017 and 2018 Oscar nominations were announced, which saw critically-acclaimed and commercially successful anime films like Your Name and A Silent Voice get snubbed in favour of Western animated films.
The Academy Awards are notoriously tight-lipped in regards to how films are nominated in which categories, but there are a few reasons that perhaps shine a light as to why anime doesn't receive much recognition at the Oscars.
The Academy Awards is dominated by American works
The Oscars may capture everyone's imagination at the start of each year, but it has historically been an American-dominated affair since the event has its roots in Hollywood where it was established nearly nine decades ago, thus it is perhaps no surprise that a majority of Oscar winners and nominations are American works.
While anime films receive considerable attention from international audiences, there is also something of a disconnect with American audiences. Casey Brienza, author of “Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics,” says that the combination of the Oscars being historically an American event and the culture clash of Japanese and American animated films may play a part in why anime films don't get much Academy Award attention.
“I think the Oscars are an American party practically by design, and so non-American works in general are underrepresented. A lot would have to change before I think anime would have a good shot at being better represented.”
Anime doesn't align with Academy voter tastes
Every Oscar nomination is decided upon by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation behind the Academy Awards. There are over 6,000 members in the Academy, all of whom have a say in which films get nominated for an Oscar each year. While details of the Academy's roster of members are a tightly-guarded secret, the known demographics paint a cynical picture as to why anime films don't receive much recognition at the Oscars.
In a 2014 survey conducted by the LA Times, it was revealed that of the 6,028 Academy Award voters asked, 94 percent were white, 76 percent were men, and the average age of voters was 63 years old. Given how anime films are generally targeting younger audiences, an argument can be made that these types of movies don't appeal to the sensibilities of the Academy's aging voter base, regardless of worldwide box office success.
Subjectivity, personal tastes, and other factors may also be reasons. While the process of deciding how films are judged for Oscar nominations remain under lock and key, released transcripts from The Hollywood Reporter of how certain Academy Award voters judge films reveal a myriad of reasons as to why certain animated films got a thumbs up, such as only watching the movies their "kids" watched to not even watching the nominated films at all.
For all the buzz about how the Academy Awards recognises the best in film every year, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes politics going on.
Each year, movie studios embark on something called an "Oscar Campaign," which are designed to get the right eyes on the right film. These campaigns aim to get certain movies seen by as many people as possible via ads, parties, the sending of free copies of films to voters, and even some old-fashioned political smearing of a competing studio or film.
Thus, it goes without saying that some films only get nominated with some behind-the-scenes wrangling and a good example is none other than Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away. In the months leading up to Spirited Away's big Oscar win in 2002, the movie received an unusual amount of positive attention from an unlikely Hollywood figure: Pixar CCO John Lasseter. A member of the Academy Awards board and a known fan of Hayao Miyazaki, Lasseter gave a glowing recommendation about Spirited Away to everyone and anyone during the 2002 Oscar season, which ultimately saw the critically-acclaimed Studio Ghibli film take home the statuette. Since then, all the anime films nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar were ones that were associated with Studio Ghibli.
Arguments can also be made that the quality of anime films sent for consideration for an Oscar are simply not good enough. Perhaps anime films will be at the forefront of the Academy Awards. For some renowned anime directors like Your Name's Makoto Shinkai, not getting an Oscar nomination doesn't worry him at all and he would prefer to perfect his craft rather than worry about the box office or Academy Awards:
“It’s not healthy, I don’t think any more people should see it. For me it’s incomplete, unbalanced. The plot is fine but the film is not at all perfect. I really hope it doesn’t win [an Oscar]."
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