It’s happened again. After a cold, frozen, and bear-fighting turn in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio—patron Saint of the Lost Oscar—has earned his fifth Academy Award nomination, which for him, is a good thing. But for the rest of us? Not so much.
Now let’s accept this argument calmly and rationally. As a proud alumni of the school of Jack Dawson and/or Romeo Montague, I—like Leo himself—have led the battle cry for our fearless hero to secure himself a tiny golden man. But since the days of cursing the Academy for neglecting to nominate the guy who gave up a wardrobe door in the name of love, the Oscars and what they mean to all of us have changed.
To start, this is the second year in which #OscarsSoWhite trended en masse thanks to the Academy’s unwillingness to acknowledge the work of actors (directors, and writers) of colour, while the broadcast in itself has come to induce eye rolls and hate-tweets over safe, outdated, and tone-deaf bits (like NPH forcing Octavia Spencer to participate in that never-ending bit about the box last year, or Seth Macfarlane’s 2013 performance of “We Saw Your Boobs”).
Which is why I have real thoughts about why Leonardo DiCaprio winning an Oscar would be overdue, sure, but also straight-up weird.
Weird how, though?
At this point, the majority of us who tune into the Oscars do so because it’s fun... to read the jokes we all make about the Oscars on Twitter. Sure, we’re happy when deserving nominees take home a prize, but our understanding of the Academy’s unwillingness to diversify categories or acknowledge women as equals (see: the complete lack of female director nominees this year) has proven the most compelling movies certainly don’t need industry acknowledgement to resonate. (I mean, hi: can we talk about Creed? Or Carol? Of course we can, because they’re just as important and good, Oscar nod or not.) So, going into the Oscars, we know they don’t hold the merit they did before—or, more specifically, before we got wise to the way voting works. And this makes putting so much emphasis on Leonardo winning even weirder. His career and his performance shouldn’t—and won’t be—defined by a flawed voting system. An Oscar would be a bonus, but not the world.
Okay, but think of the joy on his face when his name is announced. He’d probably cry and be so happy. It’d mean so much to him.
Of course it would! And I’d cry, and you’d cry, and we’d all cry together, because Leonardo DiCaprio is thirsty for an Oscar, and this is the sip he’d need to keep living. But at the same time, think of the heavyweights who still remain award-less. Samuel L. Jackson, Ralph Fiennes, Glenn Close, and Harrison Ford are all graduates of the grand school of massive snubs, and nobody here is throwing shade their way because of that. It’d be nonsense to think that the addition of an award would make or break Leonardo DiCaprio—especially because people will continue to see his work while he’s off running around in cargo shorts with a Super Soaker 3000.
Okay, but so he wins. Think about how his life would change.
Would it? He’s a 41-year-old superstar who can be in any movie he wants, and earns freakishly good accolades along the way. He’s Leonardo DiCaprio. Our parents’ parents know who he is, and will see a movie because he’s in it. There are no directors in Hollywood who refuse to work with Leo because he’s Oscar-less.
But if Leo wins, would it be for his acting, or would it be a question of thirst—of finally convincing the Academy to let him have his toy because look how hard he tried, goddamit. And if he does win, what lengths will he have to take to win again? Does every other actor have to eat bison liver now, or risk their lives and film only under natural light? If you’re an actor who really wants to win an Oscar, is “just acting” allowed now? Can we all just relax and remember that getting to make movies is a cool thing, awards are a bonus, people don’t win awards all the time for any number of jobs and everyone survives, and that sometimes it’s sweet just to wear something fancy.
We’re totally pulling for him, though.