The Problem with Legacy Oscars

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is a Hollywood institution dating back nearly 100 years. Holding its first Academy Awards in 1929, the academy has continued to put on the ceremony every year for the proceeding ninety-five years and counting. Two of the ceremony’s biggest awards, Best Actor and Best Actress, have been a staple of the Academy Awards since day one and are two of the most coveted awards an actor can receive. The awards themselves are designed to be given to the best and most outstanding acting performance of the year, something that is becoming unfortunately put into question.

A trend within the past decade known inside and out of the industry is refered to as a “Legacy Oscar”. Essentially, the term can describe an actor receiving an Oscar for a lesser performance than their fellow nominees, simply because of their long and dedicated career in acting. An isolated incident of this occurring is an acceptable notion, but a trend can not be chalked up to coincidence. With legacy once again being called into question following the 95th Academy Awards, let’s examine the problem with “Legacy Oscars”.


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And the Oscar Goes To…

Jamie Lee Curtis at The 95th Oscars® will air live from the Dolby® Theatre at Ovation Hollywood on ABC and broadcast outlets worldwide on Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Academy Awards is often a ceremony that gets lambasted for being the one night of the year that Hollywood gets together at a party thrown by Hollywood to celebrate Hollywood. While honoring great achievements in movie-making is certainly a cause worth celebrating, the Oscars are an institution that has long seemed to miss the mark. From concerns over lack of diversity, to the La La Land, and Moonlight confusion, to the unfortunate Will Smith and Chris Rock incident. The Academy Awards have had no shortage of scandals and controversies throughout its history.

One concerning trend in the recent decade has to deal with “Legacy Oscars”. The most recent example of this took place at the 95th Academy Awards when Jamie Lee Curtis won Best Supporting Actress for her role in Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, a film that cleaned up at the 2023 Academy Awards. While Curtis’s role in the film is one of her best, leading up to the awards, almost everyone had a strong belief that the award would go to Angela Basset for her emotionally charged performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. A firestorm of criticism on social media following the ceremony engulfed the news surrounding the Best Supporting Actress award, and even caused Basset to refuse to applaud or stand for Curtis’s acceptance of the award. In many ways, the win for Curtis felt like a lifetime achievement award of sorts, and the audience’s reaction to her win felt very much the same.

This most recent example is unfortunately not an isolated example by any stretch. Other notable winners that were perceived as legacy wins were, Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Joaquin Phoenix for Joker, Julianne Moore for Still Alice, and Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour. This is by no means designed to take away from these actors’ performances in the film, as they remain truly outstanding. However, the wins for these roles are in many cases not even the best performance of the actor’s careers.

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A Dying Tradition

Academy Awards Oscar Statuettes

Unfortunately for Hollywood, the Oscars seem to be a dying tradition. Something actors and filmmakers show up for each year simply because it is that, a tradition. More and more over the years, we see high-profile names skipping the ceremony, most recently Tom Cruise in order to attend Michael Caine’s birthday party. Add Caine to the list of high-profile names to skip the latest awards despite not being nominated in that particular year. Showing that not only is the ceremony losing the interest of the viewing public, but of the very people it is designed to celebrate.

As the Academy Awards attempt to do everything they can to sustain cultural relevancy, perhaps nominating well-known and big-name stars and awarding them the golden statue is their way of ensuring interest in the ceremony each year. However, there was indeed a fever pitch buildup and anticipation for someone like Angela Basset to win the award for an all-time emotional performance in one of the biggest films of 2022, and an even bigger deflation when she was snubbed of the award. Fans of the awards live for moments that they can resonate with, such as Ke Huy Quan taking home his first Oscar after decades in the industry. If audiences are under the impression that the ceremony will feature lifetime achievement presentations each year rather than truly awarding great acting from the year prior, interest will only continue to wain. An up-and-coming actor should be given a level playing field as that of a tenured actor, highlighting the problem with “Legacy Oscars”.