Equus awards need to be more like Oscars to prevent bizarre events of last year

The good standing of the Equus Awards was compromised last year when Winchester Mansion won the Category of Champion Middle Distance Horse.

Earlier this month the 96th Academy Awards ceremony was conducted in Los Angeles, California. The gala event was hosted at the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, a state of the art live-performance auditorium that was specifically commissioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to service the unique logistics that the production of Oscar night demands.

How an industry chooses to acknowledge high-level performance is an artform in itself.

An effective and equitable system of honouring excellence is as notoriously difficult to deliver as the resulting awards evening itself.

Our annual Equus Awards is a case in point, but for now let me address the Academy Awards.

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At the risk of appearing crass, cynical and guilty of priori assumption, ordinarily I find the Oscars ceremony shallow and plastic. For many years the highlight of the awards show was watching the comic genius of Billy Crystal as it’s Master of Ceremonies.

Between 1990 and 2012 Crystal hosted nine Academy Awards. As brilliant as he was, when it comes to quantity and longevity Billy Crystal cannot hold a candle to the legendary vaudevillian entertainer Bob Hope.

Bob Hope hosted an incredible 19 Academy Awards. His first emcee role at the Oscars was at the 12th installment way back in 1940 with his final performance being delivered in 1978 when, by popular demand, he was brought back to anchor the 50 year celebrations of the Academy’s annual recognition of excellence.

Hosting 19 times across 38 years is testament to Hope’s enduring appeal. Bob Hope lived to be 100 years old and although he passed away in 2003 many of his one-liners are as relevant today as they were when he was ad-libbing them on TV shows like the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

It’s an election year in both South Africa and the United States and I can hear Hope quipping, “I don’t do political jokes because too many get elected”. Try and Trump that.

The 2024 Academy Awards was different.

It wasn’t just a smidgeon different, it was radically and refreshingly different. I strongly suspect Bob and Billy would agree.

We all recognise hollow wishy washy wokeness when we see it but this viewer got the distinct impression that the Academy is witnessing genuine change through its implementation of civersity, equity and inclusion (D.E.I.) rules.

On the subject of those best picture regulations, director Spike “the Academy’s heart is in the right place” Lee and actor Richard “they make me vomit” Dreyfuss would not agree.

What endeared itself to me most was the ingenious introduction of welcoming former category winners on stage and affording them the opportunity to personally acclaim the current incumbents work.

This brought me to tears on more than one occasion during the evening. Watching the 2019 Best Supporting Actress Regina King pay homage to Danielle Brooks for her performance in The Color Purple (2023) was just one of many poignant tributes on the night.

Musically speaking, the highlight for me was Billie Eilish, accompanied on piano by her brother Finneas, singing What Was I Made For from the film Barbie (2023). The movie wasn’t on my radar. It is now.

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If you haven’t the time to watch the entire Oscar broadcast do yourself a favour and watch the four minutes it takes to present the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role during which former winners Nicholas Cage, Brenden Fraser, Ben Kingsley, Matthew McConaughey and Forest Whitaker individually honour the talent of the five nominees.

Garnering seven Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director) the evening was a triumph for one movie in particular – Oppenheimer. Which conveniently brings me back to South African horseracing.

The Equus Awards has much to be proud of, and I am thrilled to see that the 2024 event will be hosted in Cape Town under the stewardship of Greg Bortz. I gather from Alistair Cohen, who is himself involved, that we should be in good hands with the likes of Justin Vermaak, Graeme Hawkins and Vicky Minott contributing to the initiative.

The good standing of the Equus Awards was compromised last year when Winchester Mansion won the Category of Champion Middle Distance Horse.

Winchester Mansion is a talented racehorse and I personally backed him at long odds to win the Durban July, but to suggest that he was the meritorious winner of that category is preposterous.

To refresh our collective memories, three-year-old See It Again was beaten 0.25 of length in the July by the four-year-old Winchester Mansion who was in receipt of 3.5kg.

Nonplussed industry professionals explain it away as an anomaly resulting from the fact that the public always votes for the July winner. That’s not good enough, not if you’re in the business of consistently upholding excellence.

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Is it not high-time that we learn from Tinseltown and create an Academy of Horseracing?

Oscars nominations and ultimately the Oscar winner are decided by the more that 10 000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Membership to the Academy is by invitation only, these associates are described on the Academy’s website as “global film industry artists and leaders”.

There is no public vote whatsoever.

This by definition safeguards the integrity of the process, for as much as my fidus Achates Terry Paine thought Leon Schuster’s Mr Bones was the funniest movie he’d ever seen, he thankfully wasn’t afforded the opportunity to nominate it for an Oscar.

In conclusion, the most bizarre and, frankly, the most unacceptable state of affairs is that in certain Equus categories a would-be winner must nominate themselves!

Call me old fashioned but I am pretty sure James Cameron didn’t feel the need to nominate his 1997 film Titanic in each of the 11 categories for which it won an Oscar.

Furthermore, I wonder if he was obligated to nominate himself, whether the three-time Academy Award winning Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln – 2012, There Will be Blood -2007) would have given his right foot (and perhaps My Left Foot – 1989) in order to be recognised by his peers?

Honestly if we cannot as an industry discern high performance, work ethic and talent in broadcasting and print then we really ought to pack it in.

As leading owner and successful businessman Laurence Werners is quick to point out “self-praise is no recommendation”.

Next thing you know we’ll have someone winning an Equus Award for being the only person to have the temerity to trumpet themselves.

Oh wait, that’s happened already.

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