Oscar voters want you to believe that a movie with a woman fucking a fish was the best movie that 2017 had to offer. The Academy Award producers and coordinators want you to believe that they believe in inclusion. That time is up for the old way of doing business and for the old way of thinking. They want to put Denzel and Meryl front and center to let you know that they understand what diversity is. They want Emma Stone to say asinine Emma Stone things because she thinks there’s only one sign of progress. They want you to fall for the jig. Maybe they really aren’t selling a jig and maybe they view some of these things in a progressive, positive way. But how far have they, the Academy and it’s voting body, really come? Should I get my hopes up?
Hollywood took the lead in becoming morality police, holding the movers and shakers in the film industry to task for evil deeds done behind closed doors. Morality in the entertainment industry is something that’s long overdue. While the music industry does virtually nothing to address ideas of diversity, Hollywood has been front and center about promoting diversity between all people and rooting out sexual abuse against actresses and actors. There’s something interesting going on. I used “interesting” because I believe this movement has been worthwhile but we have yet to see what it can fully become or if it will even work. While we’ve seen numerous actors, directors, producers and even stunt coordinators get ostracized, that has led to more questions than answers about where to go from here. With Time’s Up, #METOO and, now, the championing inclusion riders (a stipulation that an actor can place into their movie contract to guarantee film studios hire a diverse film crew on a specific film crew), Hollywood elites are trying to fight three battles at once and this is creating a quagmire that I’m not sure people are exploring. Contradictions started to show on the seams at the Oscars and they are hard to ignore.
Last Sunday night, after returning home from seeing Black Panther for a third time, I tuned into the Oscars broadcast, about an hour into the show. After a little while, I was pleasantly surprised to see Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph co-present two awards. The routine was funny and lively; no complaints about them whatsoever. During their comedic banter, they made a joke of making sure white men weren’t worried about the social movements going on and that they would still win awards. The two awards they presented were won by two different white men in categories that carried a diverse list of nominees. The optics of the scene is incredibly weird: two black women easing the conscious of white men by presenting them awards in which they beat out women, non-white people and foreigners. I didn’t see many people pick up on what happened; most of twitter was still in stitches over Tiffany and Maya’s routine. I agree that it was funny but still vexing. My frustration didn’t end there.
Later in the show, the Oscars put together a five minute video strongly pushing for diversity and inclusion. It was about championing women and blacks and Muslims and the gay community and the transgender community in Hollywood. It was more about Hollywood taking itself to task as opposed to reprimanding society at large; more “We need to get our shit together” than “Everyone needs to get their shit together.” The video was well crafted and moving; it gained a rousing applause from the audience. The award immediately following that stirring video was awarded to a white man. It felt like someone dangling a key to a Ferrari in your face only to chuck it into a sewer drain. If the awards aren’t being won by diverse winners, was the nominee just for placation? The headaches didn’t stop there.
Emma Stone, while presenting, slighted the Oscars for only having nominated one woman for best director while ignoring the Mexican-born and black American men nominated in the same category. After Frances McDormand won for Best Actress, in a show of unity with other women, she placed her award at her feet and asked every women that was nominated for an award to stand up and share in the award she just won. Everyone broke into applause as a sign that everyone in attendance supports women and their contributions to the film industry. But, in the sea of these dozens upon dozens of women standing up, the only dark face I could see was Octavia Spencer and the rest were white women. I’m sure Emma was proud of the moment but I was questioning, when are we going to see more forms of different types of women as nominees in these categories or when will they ever be a part of these movies at all?
And a movie about a women fucking a fish won Best Picture over Get Out, a movie that gave us amazing social commentary about racial politics of our day.
Going into the night, I didn’t have much disillusions about Get Out winning for Best Picture but it wasn’t until Jordan Peele, the film’s creator, won for Best Original Screenplay that I gained a glimmer of hope. If I had watched the entire show, this glimmer may have never existed. I missed the award for Best Supporting Actor, which was won by Sam Rockwell for playing Jason Dixon in the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In short, the character of Jason is a racist homophobe with a heart of gold. He brutalized and harassed black people (off-camera), threw around the n-word casually (on-camera) and threw, literally, a gay man out of a two-story window all the while wearing his police uniform. He’s redeemed because he’s a dunce (which means he’s not responsible for his actions?), he gets set on fire (which is atonement for the foul things he’s done?), and he helps the main character, played by McDormand, try to find the man that raped and killed her daughter (which becoming a vigilante after you were already a cop when you could’ve just been a good cop to begin with is worth praising?). Regardless of how well Rockwell acted as the character (which, to be fair, he was convincing at playing a racist dunce), the character itself deserves no recognition and to do this in the Time’s Up era is vexing. The movie, haphazardly, wants you to believe Jason is redeemable because he tried to catch a rapist but where’s the justice for the black people he terrorized and the gay man he attacked? The voters were fine ignoring these transgressions because he helped a white woman find “justice.” For these social movements Hollywood wants to spur, that’s hustlin’ backwards.
Being the face of societal change leaves you open to scrutiny, whether right or wrong, but you have to stand the fire. Hollywood has yet to do so, though the effort is there so far and effort, in itself, is a good thing. This movement is new and the applause for solely effort will be and should be fleeting. My fear is that there are more people like Emma Stone, parading around as an inclusionist but only there to service their personal agenda. Even if the producers of the Oscars are ready for change, it’s voting body is not and these people represent the bulk of Tinseltown. That’s a problem.
An interesting development occurred when former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant won for Best Animated Short and Gary Oldman won for Best Male Actor. Some people think that their winning awards invalidates the #METOO movement because Bryant had a rape charge in 2003 and Oldman was accused of beating his former wife. Kobe, who had his trial dismissed because the accuser refused to testify, later admitted, at the time during the sexual encounter, he believed that the sex was mutual but acknowledges that she did not view the encounter as consensual. (Sounds strange, right? Well, it is.) Oldman’s third wife accused him of abuse, including one incident lead to him hitting her in the head with a phone in 2001. Also, Oldman had an incident of making anti-Semitic statements which where then followed by a flimsy apology. The two men pose more contradictions and questions that worth exploring:
Does time heal all wounds?
Is there a chance for redemption?
Who decides who’s in and who’s out?
For many people, the first two questions are a resounding, definitive “no,” especially when it comes to rape, sexual assault and physical abuse. For others, there’s room for redemption, like Jason in Three Billboards. The sports world has had a dozen plus years to digest the Kobe trial. Before the Oscars, the trial was, for better or worse, an afterthought. Coupled with the fact that Kobe never had a history of trouble before the trial and never got into any trouble or any additional abuse claims since, all seems to be forgiven. (That and winning championships doesn’t hurt either.)
Staying in the sports world, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in 2014 was caught on tape viciously attacking his then girlfriend and his football career has been dead ever since. But Rice went through counseling and therapy and since has shown sincere remorse for his atrocious act. He has talking engagements with young football players, steering them from making the same poor choice that he made. The sports community forgave him and his girlfriend married him shortly after the incident, but, from the way things look, he’ll never play in the NFL again. Between Kobe and Ray, who’s situation was handled correctly? Kobe was still allowed to play in the NBA during the trial. He eventually went on to win multiple championships, NBA awards, an Oscar and is now gaining an impressive post-basketball career. Rice was immediately cut from his team, effectively blackballed by the NFL, atoned for his sins but still no team would sign him. Where’s the justice for Ray? Does he deserve any at all?
This leads to the third question which is the most difficult to answer: who gets to be let back in once they’ve been labeled an outcast? Is it up to the victims or society at large? Hollywood is trying to get Mel Gibson back in the fold by putting him in shitty comedy movies, but I and many people won’t forgive him for the racist things he’s said. With the accusations surfacing after the Oscars, what’s to happen with Gary Oldman’s career now? The same question should be asked of last year’s Best Male Actor Casey Affleck who’s been mum since his sexual assault allegation. Affleck is set to have a couple of movies release this year, we’ll see if people flock to the films or let them flop.
Just because these questions have been raised, the fight for equality must continue and the hideous deeds that people are doing must be brought to the forefront. These are extremely hard questions that must be openly addressed because it’s easy to exercise people as egregious as Harvey Weinstein or Gibson or Larry Nassar from society because dismissing people on the extremes is easy to do. It’s more challenging and more worthwhile to consider everyone else that falls in between.