Ask John: Why Do Hollywood Move Awards Snub Anime?

Is the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – not to mention the Annie Awards -against the idea that animation can be for older audiences, or that animation can compete with and even supersede live-action cinema meant for older audiences? With the exception of Spirited Away, anime (assuming you don’t count The Spirits Within as anime) has not managed to get beyond the eligibility list for the Oscars and the Annies. (Though the Annies do, at least, nominate more “mature” titles than AMPAS.) Ironically, however, PG-13 fare such as Beowulf and the Triplets of Beleville have occasionally made it to the final list. But one could argue that the content of these productions is only slightly more mature than that of a PG film, which is really the only reason they get picked.

If they were truly ground-breaking in their approach to animation, such as in the case of Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika, GITS: Innocence, or Sky Crawlers, then they’d likely be snubbed. After all, even a critically-acclaimed Oscar nominated director like Richard Linklater couldn’t get Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly to make the cut. And there are a number of critics who feel that Waltz with Bashir should have been a shoo-in for Best Animated Picture nominee; but it got segregated to Best Foreign Film, where, even there, it lost to a family-friendly picture.

And even when these movies do make the list, they can never win anything beyond that Best Animated Award. In fact, if I recall, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was snubbed precisely because certain guilds didn’t like the idea that it might beat their live-action work, which is why the category was created. Furthermore, many critics have argued that Wall-E also deserved to compete as much as Beauty for that coveted honor of Best Film. And, of course, some industry people would suggest that The Dark Knight also lost, simply because it was based on a comic book. (My theory for why Lord of the Rings pasted muster was because it was based on a series of novels, and was thus considered “literature.”)

The Annies have been a little more flexible in their selections than AMPAS, but still fairly biased to mainstream tv shows and spin-offs of said shows. It seems that lobbying from bigger production companies is really why certain contenders win the Annies, even though that award ceremony is supposed to be represented specifically by animation industry talent, and not simply sentimental older members who consider anything made in the style of 30s Disney or Warner Bros. productions to be the definition of quality animation. (No offense to John K.)

However, the Annie members don’t exactly have any “mature” tastes, either. They basically go for whatever’s popular with the Nickelodeon crowd. And they probably only pick the Groening stuff because of its lengthy presence on television, rather than its current (questionable) quality. So what’s your take on the issue? Are these award shows behind the times? Or do they simply have a different idea of what can be considered the “best” animation?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a Hollywood insider. It’s relevant now that I again emphasize that I can only supply an answer predicated upon personal theory and observation rather than confirmed, first hand knowledge. There’s no way to deny that numerous deserving anime films distributed in America have been overlooked or passed over for award recognition. I’m aware that much of America’s anime fan community suspects that the Hollywood film industry, and particularly its award circles, resent or dismiss anime. But I think that fan suspicion is misplaced. I’m not saying that conspiracy theories are unjustified, only that I think many American anime fans are misinterpreting circumstances. I don’t believe that anime gets willfully and maliciously excluded from major Hollywood award consideration. Rather, I suspect that anime simply gets overshadowed and excluded by circumstances rather than conscious decision.

While candidates for major Hollywood film awards like the Annie and Oscar are submitted by film distributors, final nominees and winners are determined by members of the relative award presentation organizations. These are typically members of the professional film industry, so they have particular views, attitudes, and expectations on film. More importantly, they’re also associated with and influenced by fellow members of their profession. The Oscars have a well known predisposition toward films with serious, dramatic, and literary weight, and popular films that skew toward a broad, mainstream American audience. Genre films, and films most accessible to niche audiences have never been especially popular among AMPASS voters. With such an established policy, it’s impossible to argue that there’s not some degree of conscious rejection of animation, fantasy, science-fiction, horror, martial arts, and other niche film genres. But, I think, there’s a greater influence at work.

The Japanese animated films that have gained the most recognition from award organizations including the Oscars and Annies have been Ghibli films distributed by Disney, and anime productions with American production connections like The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight. I suspect that the response anime gets from Hollywood awards is largely connected to simple exposure. Disney is one of America’s most powerful film distributors. Furthermore, unlike anime films distributed by Sony, Warner Bros., or other Hollywood heavyweights, Disney’s backing of Ghibli films includes dubbing by A-list Hollywood actors; the involvement of influential producers and supporters like Frank Marshall, Steve Alpert, Neil Gaiman, and personal friend of Hayao Miyazaki, John Lassiter; and significant advertising campaigns. Films like Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Steamboy, Paprika, Appleseed, Tekkon Kinkreet, and Innocence may be distributed by major Hollywood studios, but these films don’t have major Hollywood connections. They don’t have Hollywood actors, producers, and talent agents mentioning them in conversation or urging each other to consider during award consideration time. In other words, regardless of relative cinematic quality, certain animated films circulated in Hollywood are less easy to ignore or forget than others. Animated films like Paprika or Waltz With Bashir may be technically superior to Surf’s Up or Beowulf, but Paprika and Waltz With Bashir don’t feature the involvement of influential Hollywood individuals.

Hollywood film awards like the Academy Awards and Annie Awards acknowledge international film, and don’t entirely snub Japanese animation. But outside observers should recognize that these award ceremonies have to be approached as real world events that are influenced by the individuals associated with them. Theory and ideals may be guiding principles, but they can’t be applied firmly and exclusively to actual, real life circumstances. Award presentations like the Oscars and Annies are an insiders’ game. They present just enough global and meritorious perspective to convince outsiders that they’re objective, and I don’t doubt that their organizing bodies and associates have reasonably judicious aspirations, but expecting Hollywood awards to genuinely ignore insider politics and associations in favor of objective recognition of literary, artistic, and cinematic excellence just isn’t realistic. I don’t believe that Hollywood resents anime. I also don’t believe that Hollywood is prone to disregard its own inner circle to consistently favor deserving but foreign, or at least “non-insider” films. The Oscars are often called a popularity contest. That “popularity” doesn’t necessarily refer entirely to box office success; it also refers to films that include the involvement of Hollywood talent versus films that have little direct, daily association with, and impact on, the Hollywood judges that determine award winners.


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