Baiters gonna bait: An examination of The Post
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Although Oscar season ended with the new year, the nominations for the highly coveted Academy Awards have now arrived. The 90th Academy Award ceremony is set to take place on March 4 of this spring, with many anxious contenders in line for their bid.
In 1948, the term “Oscar bait” emerged as a way to critically refer to films created exclusively for obtaining nominations and awards. Since the 1970’s, the late release strategy that now defines “Oscar season” became widespread in hopes of securing lasting impressions with audiences. This practice now bifurcates lighthearted, deep-pocketed summer blockbusters with the serious, (money hungry?) Oscar-worthy films.
What is at stake here is not the issue of films made in earnest versus films made for awards. Filmmakers are justified in their pursuit of awards and acclaims. What is at stake is the possibility of the mass production of art with a specific and limiting mold-- hidden behind grandiose scores and highly paid actors. If true, we are allowing for films to be reproductions of formulas that guarantee the Academy’s attention rather than those that are boundary pushing.
According to Screenrate, “Oscar bait” might be dead and gone come 2018 Oscars. Still, this has not prevented films, such as The Post, from following the distinguishable format that promises to elicit a cheap but strong emotional response from an audience.
The film stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, two of the most beloved actors in the industry who have both won several Oscars. This year, Streep has broken her own record for the highest number of nominations with a nomination for Best Actress in The Post. Additionally comes automatic clout with big name director, Steven Spielberg, who has won three out of his seventeen Oscar nominations.
Sadly, the film succumbs to the cliched characteristics of Oscar bait. The film attempts to channel the nostalgia of United States history that mimics our current tumultuous political climate. It dons the uniform of socially engaged art without doing much of the artistic leg work, as it is a narrative based on true events. It reduces Meryl Streep’s character, the publisher of the Washington Post and the first female Fortune 500 CEO, to an overly timid male-dependent woman who literally looks at Tom Hanks and asks “what do we do now?” In reality she made strong strides toward gender equality at her publication and maintained a leadership role there until the 90s. Not to mention that a “serious™ Spielberg political drama based on true™ events starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks with promised disses to the current administration and we’ll even throw a bone to the feminists” sounds like an SNL skit about what it takes to be Oscar bait in 2018.
Because of this, it is not a surprise that the film only received two nominations. In the past few years, social movements such as #metoo, #timesup, and #oscarssowhite have infiltrated the industry as a way to remove power from those who abuse it. Clearly, the Academy is happy to throw a nomination to anyone that attempts to follow suit in the Hollywood rebellion-- leaving much to be desired as far as depth of content. Does The Post’s low nomination count mean the end of Oscar Bait, replaced by more challenging fare like Get Out? Or is this year an anomaly? In some ways it depends who actually wins the awards. If The Post beats out films like Three Billboards, Lady Bird, Get Out, and Dunkirk, it may show that the Academy isn’t quite through with Oscar Bait yet.