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Hollywood Loves an Underdog Story: Brendan Fraser & the Oscars

Brendan Fraser's comeback is heart-warming, it's a shame that all the awards feel like an apology from an industry that kicked him out....

UPDATE: Brendan Fraser has won the Oscar for Best Actor.

As many of us know, the Hollywood industry awards season is a sham. It’s fake, it’s bull. It isn’t about who made the best film, it’s about who has the best publicist or marketing team, who can give the best gifts to the ones voting. Whose “For Your Consideration” campaign was the best? In other words, industry awards are not up to a democratic vote, but the whims and fancies of those few chosen to vote. It’s more akin to an elitist oligarchy than an open democracy. But this isn’t new information and if anyone knows this, it’s Brendan Fraser, and despite that or maybe because of it, he is a frontrunner to take home the Best Actor Award at the Oscars. 

Unfortunately, it’s not because he’s a master of the game, no, it’s because he has experienced the worst the game has to offer. 

The Worst Hollywood Has to Offer

Philip Berk

In 2018, Fraser alleged that the former (then current) president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA, the organisation behind the Golden Globes), Philip Berk, groped him at a lunch in Beverly Hills, in 2003. 

Fraser called the incident one of the leading reasons he had disappeared from Hollywood. 

After Fraser went public, Berk called it “a total fabrication.” Nevertheless, the HFPA launched an internal investigation. They concluded that Berk had “inappropriately touched” Fraser, but it “was intended to be taken as a joke and not as a sexual advance.” 

While Berk wasn’t booted from the organisation for assaulting Fraser (surprise, surprise), he was booted for calling Black Lives Matter “a racist hate movement.” Keep this in mind, we’ll get back to it. 

Fraser wasn’t surprised the investigation amounted to nothing telling GQ that, “I knew they would close ranks. I knew they would kick the can down the road. I knew they get ahead of the story. I knew that I certainly had no future with that system as it was…”

And why wouldn’t they? The HFPA has around 87 members of international journalists writing for publications around the world. For such a small and tightknit group, it isn’t hard for groupthink to take over and have them all convincing each other that covering up any scandal is better than addressing it. “Think about our reputation!” they must have cried. 

The Golden Globes has been ridden with scandals for decades, but they became a centre of controversy in 2021 when the Los Angeles Times revealed that of those 87 members, there was not a single Black member. Now recall Berk’s comments about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Keep in mind that in 2016, #OscarsSoWhite was a topic of conversation. In response, The Academy had committed to diversifying its membership to include more women and people of colour. The Academy is no better than the HFPA, they were just the first to get noticed. 

By 2021, the HFPA couldn’t claim ignorance. 

While that was bad enough, the Times also revealed all the backdoor deals and shady practices of the organisation, often treating journalists outside of the organisation “as threats,” according to Danish journalist, Sara Gerlach Madsen. 

There’s plenty more to this story but it is beyond the scope of this article. I would suggest reading the Times article in full as a start. 

With that being said, it’s no surprise that Brendan Fraser didn’t attend the 2023 Golden Globes despite his film, The Whale, and himself being nominated. It’s also no surprise that he didn’t win the Golden Globe, instead it went to Austin Butler for his portrayal of Elvis. Outside of the Golden Globes, Fraser has taken home almost every award he has been nominated for including at the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actor, and the TIFF Actor Award. 

Staging Brendan Fraser’s Heart-Warming Comeback

You would have to be incredibly cynical not to believe Brendan Fraser is being genuine in his emotions. He hasn’t made it through one awards ceremony without breaking into tears. It’s the feel-good story everyone wants to hear in a time when it feels like there is nothing but bad news. But this is the problem, it’s part of the cycle. The awards ceremonies are marketing events, and you would have to be a fool to think Fraser and his team don’t know what they’re doing. 

Hollywood loves an underdog story. So a former member of their ranks who was pushed out by the very people whose acceptance is required to win these awards and make a once-in-a-lifetime comeback? The script writes itself. 

The Oscars are rigged. Again, this isn’t a new sentiment. Convicted rapist and former Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, took advantage of the situation in 1999 with an aggressive Oscar campaign that laid the blueprint for future campaigns leading to Shakespeare in Love winning Best Picture over Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Which was the obviously better film? Which do we still discuss? Or how about what is considered the least deserving Best Picture winner, Crash (2004), which even the director, Paul Haggis, agreed shouldn’t have won. 

The best part for Fraser is that he made the right kind of film. 93% of Best Picture winners are dramas, and The Whale is exactly that, but not only that, it has been directed by a celebrated director, Darren Aronofsky. Now, The Whale isn’t expected to take home Best Picture, but this trend extends to the other categories as well. According to Business Insider, actors are nine times more likely to receive a nomination if their work is a drama. 

You may have heard the term “Oscar-bait.” These are films that adhere to the formula for winning (or getting nominated) for Oscars. Here are five common categories that will help discern something as Oscar-bait:

  • The film is adapted from famous source material
  • It’s based on a true story
  • Period dramas with expensive costumes and sets
  • Historical biographies of important figures
  • Feature character[s] with disabilities

Since 1980, 89% of Best Picture winners fit into one of these categories. The Whale checks two of these boxes, being adapted from a semi-famous stage-play and starring a character with a disability. 

Brendan Fraser’s involvement in this film has no doubt been genuine. It’s the campaign surrounding it that feels hollow.

Aronofsky told Collider that while discussing the project with Fraser, “It was clear to me when I met with him right after the idea of him possibly doing it that here was an actor who saw the opportunity and wanted the opportunity.” 

Brendan Fraser never wanted to stop acting and he didn’t, but he wasn’t a movie star anymore, he wasn’t a part of Hollywood anymore. He appeared in an episode of TV here and there, like Trust (2018) and The Affair (2016-17), but he was a figment of the past, and it wasn’t even his fault. He wanted to get back to that, he “wanted the opportunity.” Whether that was the opportunity to return to Hollywood or the opportunity to challenge himself as an actor, he wanted any opportunity, the fact that he got both must have surprised even himself. 

Fraser didn’t deserve what happened to him, he deserves to continue his craft to the level he once used to, and it’s a shame that he needs the approval of the very people who prevented him from doing so. This a larger issue than Fraser. Show business is a rotten business, which at the risk of sounding repetitive, is nothing new. 

The Oscar will probably go to Fraser, the story is too good to pass up. Think about how Leonardo DiCaprio got his Oscar for The Revenant (2015). He should have received it for The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but when he didn’t, it became a joke that he would never win an Oscar despite many outstanding performances. It was public sentiment that finally led to the Academy to give him the award for The Revenant. DiCaprio’s performance was good, but it wasn’t his best. Instead, it felt more like a Lifetime Achievement Award for past performances. 

Instead, Brendan Fraser’s Oscar will read like an apology from Hollywood: “We’re sorry one of our leading figures sexually assaulted you and triggered a downward spiral that was difficult to climb out of. Our bad! Here’s an Oscar and the return of your career. Remember if you step out of line again we can just as easily take it away from you!” 

Thankfully, award shows like the Oscars are dying as more people realise that they mean nothing. The 2021 Oscars had 10.4 million viewers, a 56% drop from the previous year’s 23.6 million viewers. The Emmy’s dropped 14% to 5.1 million viewers. The Grammys, a 51% drop to 9.23 million viewers. With any luck, we as audiences will have moved on in the near future. 

Judging by the response of Fraser’s comeback on social media, audiences are overwhelmingly happy for his return, regardless if he wins an Oscar. The Brenaissance is here to stay, and that’s a good thing, it’s just a shame that it had to come to this, but ironically without this series of events, he might never have even been considered for Best Actor. 


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