Films, to begin with, are one of the most evident displays of ideology – so much so that cultural critics, such as Laura Mulvey and Slavoj Žižek, use a variety of critical theory to pick apart the unconscious, invisible ideological content that seeps through the screen – Žižek, for one, has two films that take this as their central focus: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology and The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, both of which take from Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and her idea on the voyeurism of cinema, where we all watch the Other without their knowledge or awareness. Film is, thus, submerged and intertwined in the problems of its time at any time.
Other than film itself, the institutions built surrounding art forms further legitimize the ideological content that is resonant in the art object. Before we turn to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, let us turn back to the 17th century and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture). The Académie regulated art production into specific methods – namely, the influential ideas of Nicolas Poussin – through which grants and exhibitions were regulated. Now, it is clear that the Académie and the Academy are not intrinsically the same – for one, the ideas of a sole filmmaker are not pushed on as the standard of art; however, the central point here is that of maintaining an institution that legitimizes certain kinds of discourse of art objects. Exhibitions, grants, awards, nominations, and such are the mechanisms that perpetrate the ideological content of films, artworks, and persons into legitimization.
As it has been for a while, the question of representation is itself political. As I’ve written in an essay, “The Mystical Object of the Racialized Voice,” “Voices dominate narration. We cannot speak without a voice. But the ‘we’ that speaks becomes so fragmented over narration to the point that when we speak, ‘them’ is entailed (and spoken of/for). A variety of issues in social stratification encounter this problem of narrative – for instance, the Anti-Semite’s construction of the Jew, the heteronormative construction of the culturally unintelligible ‘queer,’ and the neuronormative construction of neurodivergence.” “The question here has become one that depends on what socio-political power regulates, restricts, and prohibits in the narration of its subjects.” Socio-political power has been argued to dominantly legitimize white, heteronormative, ableist, Western discourse at the expense of the marginalized subjects subjected into a corner of the screen.
In response, the 2016 Oscar displayed a constant response to these criticisms – particularly, responding to Will and Jada Smith’s boycott of the Oscars. At this point, the images flashing the screen throughout the Academy Awards amount to ideological violence dependent on mockery and subject subjection of those boycotts who have become Other. Here we encounter two camps of response, the boycotting radicals and the participating reformists. “The reformist black voice came under the form of Chris Rock, in a variety of awkward statements in regards to Black Lives Matter and the boycott; from claiming that Hollywood is definitely racist to claiming that the real racial issues were situated in the 60s, Rock struggled with universalizing himself as the black voice. He was given the space to speak the black voice, to articulate what has been turned into the mystified Other, only to objectify blackness one more time” (“The Mystical Object of the Racialized Voice”).
What we ultimately encounter in watching the Oscars is a political battleground of the imaginary, where representational fantasies of unconscious ideology duke it out one-on-one over legitimization and perpetration.