The Golden [Statuette] Age: How Miramax Sold Shakespeare to the Academy
This article revisits the 71st Academy Award Ceremony in 1999 when Shakespeare in Love picked up seven Oscars from thirteen nominations, controversially beating Saving Private Ryan to be named Best Picture. It is rare for a romantic comedy to win this coveted award, but then this is not just a film about love; it is a film about Shakespeare in love. In its depiction of cultural heritage Shakespeare in Love foregrounds ‘the very business of show’, remaking the playwright and his theatre in the image of millennial Hollywood. By reducing the distance between the two, the film makes claims to cultural quality worthy of recognition and reward. Shakespeare in Love reflected and capitalised on taste culture of the time and cemented Miramax's reputation as a purveyor of ‘Oscar-bait’. This article looks closely at a production context of which this film represents an epitome.
Peter Biskind has christened the period between Disney’s purchase of Miramax in 1993 and Shakespeare in Love’s Best Picture Oscar as a ‘Golden Age’, in which the company profited from the benefits of being a studio subsidiary while still enjoying the kudos they had cultivated as an indie. Thanks to the financial weight lent by their parent studio, Miramax was able to market and distribute the film widely – it played on nearly two thousand screens in America at the peak of its theatrical run, during Oscar season – and to forcefully promote it among the ranks of the Academy voters. Complementing the authoritative cultural pedigree of the film’s subject matter was Miramax’s own reputation for ‘quality filmmaking’, which the film simultaneously drew upon and sought to perpetuate. In this way Shakespeare in Love offered mainstream studio production and romantic comedy content, while also projecting an aura of superior substance thanks to the connotations of the names Shakespeare and Miramax. Cultural hybridity is at the root of the film’s Oscar-winning success.