2020 was the year where just about everything was thrown into a state of disarray and one of the most prominent industries to be impacted was the entertainment industry. Movie premieres, festivals, concerts, and awards shows were either delayed or outright cancelled, setting the tone for a year in which nothing felt the same as it was before.
The chaos of 2020 has already bled into the new year as well, with movie and sporting events still being cancelled and prominent awards shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes being delayed to later than usual dates. These delays have done more than just make us wait longer; they have outright thrown a massive wrench into the awards season lineup, prompting movies to delay until January and February for a wide-ish release and spotlighting more unusual films for awards consideration.
If anything, the 2020-21 awards season has become one of the most notably intriguing seasons for movies as the guidelines for what could be considered an “awards” film have been twisted beyond what previous years can comprehend. Streaming exclusive films are now eligible for consideration, opening the doors for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and Shudder to throw their hat into the competitive field of awards films and further blurring the lines between “awards” and “non-awards” films.
If the shaky rules of awards culture haven’t already been exposed to us before the pandemic came, last year all but chucked the rule book out the window. The Golden Globes have felt this impact by being thrust into the news again and again for their outdated rules and the unstable nature behind their rules of categorization. Films that might’ve been eligible for a Best Motion Picture award one year could be ineligible another year, prompting many controversies over their handling of categories and what films go where.
Horror in particular has continuously felt the wrath of awards culture over the past decades and the Golden Globes haven’t been any different. Scarce nominations scattered throughout its 50+ year lifespan has left the genre playing catch-up to its more award friendly contemporaries in drama and comedy. Similarly to the Oscars, select horror titles have often only received an inkling of recognition from the Golden Globes and Oscars by distancing themselves from their more transgressive companions in the genre, now popularized by the term “elevated horror.”
Mainstream awards outlets can stomach horror through this thoroughly modern term, providing them the justification to lump these select features in categories like Comedy/Musical and Drama. Get Out has humorous elements to it, which is all that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association needed to place the horror film (as Jordan Peele himself describes it) in Comedy, betraying the tone and message that Peele was going for. The drama in The Exorcist was compelling enough for it to win Best Motion Picture – Drama, yet it stands as one of the only horror films to even come close to that kind of mainstream awards success.
Writing this now, it bears mentioning that horror is far from underappreciated in mainstream culture, often reliably turning a profit in the world of films, shows, and literature. The audience for horror exists and it is that very audience that has propelled names like Stephen King, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and so many more to stardom and fame.
The genre has seen a wealth of audiences ranging from gore hounds and midnight movie frequenters to teenagers and casual moviegoing adults looking for a good scare, keeping horror in a spot of relevancy that even some of the most acclaimed dramas and comedies have had difficulties keeping. 1999 films like The Blair Witch Project and The Sixth Sense (films that either dived or dipped their toes into horror) feel likelier to come up in 21st century conversations than American Beauty (that year’s Best Picture Oscar winner), don’t they?
So what gives?
A notable difference between the Golden Globes and the Oscars is categorization. The Oscars group all categories in to include any awards-qualifying film under any genre. In contrast, the Golden Globes have split their top film awards into two main areas of film: Drama and Musical/Comedy (so technically three, but it wouldn’t be the Golden Globes if it didn’t freely move the goalposts each year). Best Film and the leading Actor and Actress awards all factor this in, which would theoretically allow a greater number of films of different genres to be nominated.
Therefore, it stands to reason that a separate category for horror would yield similar results, right? Genres intermingle with each other all the time, but when playing by the Golden Globes’ rules, three different categories for each of the top prizes separate films and performances accordingly. An additional category implies the idea of more titles being recognized for awards consideration, especially on a mainstream level that precedes the Oscars.
The addition of horror as a category runs the risk of feeling forceful to the voting body for essentially guaranteeing that horror titles and performances receive the same level of recognition as Drama, Comedy, and Musical. What if there are no good horror titles in the year? Maybe there’s a year where the genre fails to deliver on anything remotely acceptable. The horror blockbusters of the year stumble and yet voters would be required to stretch their brains to choose the films they hated the least to fill out the category.
That would bring us to the question of why we assume that horror must be held to this standard to begin with. It’s no shocker to state that there have been more than plenty of films over the years that got rewarded despite not boasting sizable or passionate audiences. Films that were considered “overrated” by general moviegoers, yet major voting bodies showered them with praise anyways. Would that suddenly become an issue if horror received similar treatment?
Drama and Comedy/Musical operate under these same regulations, yet there’s never a shortage of films for voters to choose from. All the talk about bad dramas, comedies, and musicals becomes nonexistent when major voting bodies suddenly feel the urge to reiterate that X year was a great year for films and how it was such a difficult task to only choose a handful of films. Was it that difficult or is this all just rooted in immediate memorability? Fall and Winter are the prime awards seasons for a reason.
There’s no doubting that films like The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, District 9, Black Swan, Silence of the Lambs, Jaws, and Get Out are each ambitious and admirable achievements in horror and thriller recognized by mainstream outlets. The idea behind film awards is to appreciate the best that the year, festival, or genre had to offer, but genre titles seem to be among the only group of films in which that idea is upheld to a strict degree. Horror titles must truly capture the zeitgeist to even be considered, while other groups can scrape by with just being “pretty good.”
Mainstream awards outlets are a political game at the end of the day and this will surely not be a swerve for many of you reading this. Films are awarded based on the strength of their campaign and how much each respective one appeals to voters. There have been countless articles written on the various reasonings behind anonymous Oscar voters leaning the ways that they do. The voter who couldn’t get behind Parasite because of the language barrier is still fresh in my mind. Same with voters who outright admit to not even watching most of the animated category and just going with familiarity.
Despite this, there’s something about the casual shunning of many horror films from these awards that still irks me. How these shows can’t even seem to feign passive-aggressive politeness towards the genre despite it being the home to some of the most memorable and still-relevant films and shows in its history. How a popular and successful horror film like The Invisible Man still has less of a chance of being recognized than films that haven’t even been released to the public yet.
And somehow in-between my complaints, I do wonder if adding a horror category would truly change anything. Would the culture behind horror filmmaking change? This addition would believably inspire studios and filmmakers to craft their films in a more awards friendly manner seeing as how horror films would be a shoe-in to get some nominations. Great for the genre, but would the passion behind the storytelling and filmmaking be gone? When the end goal is award recognition, what kind of legacy would that leave behind?
Horror being consistently shut out is but a smaller area of a gargantuan issue with these awards in general. Each year, a growing slew of films from all genres and storytellers end the year without so much as a peep from award shows. Awards pundits feel the need to push the focus on the arbitrary importance of nominations, wins, etc. Awards culture has created a bubble dedicated to inflating the importance of films of which the majority fall off the radar the minute that awards season is over. Think of it like the 2K of the film industry.
It’s fun to speculate and look back on these films and there’s no shortage of articles on awards shows that are entertaining to read. I’ve dabbled with it myself on this site. But the monster that is awards culture has the potential to distort the idea behind why we tell stories and why horror is as beloved as it is in spite of scarce awards love. The adoring audience of Hereditary is still feeling the sting of Toni Collette’s snub, yet the film (especially the dinner scene) has left behind a lasting impression that has already elevated it to classic status in many horror fans’ eyes.
Maybe I’m wrong and adding in a horror category could be the first small step to genuine change in awards culture. The inclusion of more films could possibly open up award voters’ eyes to a bevy of films that are capable of standing toe-to-toe with their Drama and Comedy companions. Maybe it would actually force the HFPA to apply rules of equality to each category, which should theoretically be a given, no?
If news came out tomorrow that a horror category were to be added for future shows, of course I would be ecstatic at the notion. As risky as it is for awards culture to suck horror into its bubble, sometimes a little tinkering can go a long way in inciting real change. Would horror audiences feel the same way? How harsh would the backlash be from established awards voters? Would it change a damn thing?
Maybe not. But isn’t it worth a shot?