A prominent Academy Awards expert, 1993 Illinois Wesleyan alumnus Tariq Khan is a producer at the Fox News Channel in New York City and serves as the network's official Academy Awards writer and on-air commentator. He explained his lifelong passion for the Oscars, fostered during his years as a theatre student at Illinois Wesleyan, and his path to becoming a pundit.
You feel it’s important for a pundit to be bold.
If you're sitting on the fence, saying that anything could happen, then what's the point? What are you really giving people? But if you say, “I feel very strongly this is what's going to happen, despite what everyone else says,” this gives impact. Being a pundit is all part of the entertainment business and strong predictions, strong opinions, and a good sense of humor is the best way to approach it. Khan suggested jokes for this year's opening monologue.
What was your path from a theatre undergraduate to Oscars expert?
I was already an Oscar fanatic and, in my theatre classes, talked to my professors a lot about the Oscars to get their opinion and learn from them. My senior year here at Illinois Wesleyan, I did my independent study on the history of the Academy Awards with Professor John Ficca. I spent the entire January Term watching a movie per day and writing about why it won the awards that it did, learning more about the Oscars and having him look at my writing and my analysis, and share his thoughts. That was a great experience.
After I left here with a theatre and English double major, I just kept studying the Oscars, then working in the entertainment industry, covering the ceremonies, and writing stories and some TV segments about the Oscars. It's really just one step at a time.
I'm proud that I've been doing Oscar films for more than 35 years now. I have seen virtually every Oscar-winning performance and film. I see five or six movies per week. And I go back and I watch a lot of old Oscar ceremonies to know the speeches, the reactions, the great moments. That's the best way to do it.
Do the Oscars represent the pulse of the country?
Film is always a reflection of society and Oscars' taste can change from year-to-year just like society's taste. For example, Crash winning Best Picture of 2005, about racial issues in Los Angeles, then the following few years you saw very different films win, The Departed and No Country For Old Men. And The Artist, of course, winning Best Picture of 2011. Who would think, in this day and age — all of the technology we have — that a black-and-white, silent film would win? That almost says that we needed to go back to our roots of storytelling...that you don't necessarily need all this great technology, but if you have good actors, a good story, you could make a fantastic film, like they did with The Artist.
What was the first Oscars ceremony you watched?
It was the ceremony in 1978, honoring the best films of 1977, and I was just a child at the time. Star Wars was nominated for 10 categories. There were huge lines around the block to see it any time, in any theater. We had seen it as a family and my older brothers were Star Wars fanatics. They wanted it to win all the big awards and I watched the Oscars not really knowing what to expect. When Jack Nicholson read Annie Hall for Best Picture, my brothers were so upset and I laughed at them because I’d picked correctly. Ever since, I've watched the Oscars every year. By the time I got to Illinois Wesleyan I was a certified Oscar fanatic. No question.
What's next for you in your career? You haven't won an Oscar, yet. A little sadness there?
I realize that's not my destiny. And that's OK. Being an Oscar pundit is what I was destined for. That's fine. The Academy Awards come every single year, so it’s something that I am looking forward to doing for many more years. And you know, I'm thinking, if I can make it perhaps to the year 2078, I could be watching the Oscars, the ceremony, 100 years after the very first time I watched an Oscar ceremony.
Contact: Amy Young, (309) 556-3181