When Brad Pitt took to the Dolby Theatre stage today to accept his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, he told the audience he only had 45 seconds to give his speech. Of that, he spent eleven precious seconds praising the stunt teams behind key films in his career.
“I also want to say, while we’re doing all this, I think it’s time we give a little love to our stunt coordinators and our stunt crews,” Pitt said. His shoutout made sense: Pitt won the award for his portrayal of Cliff Booth, an ageing stunt guy in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
But that might be the only time their contributions are mentioned at Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show, because stunts don’t really figure in the Academy Awards. At all.
It’s strange to me that the Oscars doesn’t recognise stunts, given how central they are to lauded films. Where would 2016 Best Picture nominee Mad Max: Fury Road be without its pole-swinging maniacs? Then there are this year’s contenders. Can you see 1917 without stunt actors hurling themselves through fake artillery shells? How about Ford v Ferrari without a stable of crack drivers?
But I’m just some guy in the audience, and I’m definitely not the only person to have this thought. The omission of stunts from the Academy Awards becomes even more bizarre when you clock how hard the industry has fought for representation. Speaking on the matter last year, veteran stunt coordinator Jack Gill told Vulture he’s been urging the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for recognition for nearly 30 years, only to be knocked back each time.
Gill told the publication he’d assembled nearly all of the 100 members required to form a Stunts Branch of the organisation, which would aid in the fight for recognition at the Oscars. Even then, Gill says votes on the matter often come at the tail end of marathon Academy meetings, effectively relegating the idea to the maybe-later pile.
“They believe that action has no business in the Oscars.
“Even when I mentioned Ben Hur and how the action sequences framed the character and made him stronger in the film, I was told that the action really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of the movie.”
Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri agrees, speculating it may come down to an us-versus-them mindset of some Academy members, who see the technical aspects of stunt work as less deserving, less artistic, than the other categories.
A online petition to recognise stunts at the Academy Awards has racked up over 120,000 signatures since 2016. I’ve been refreshing the page this afternoon, watching a spike in sign-ups after Pitt’s speech. Maybe he can bring it up at his next Academy catch-up.