The Oscars: One Small Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 04: Actors Lupita Nyong'o (L) and Kumail Nanjiani speak onstage during the 90th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

If you watched the Oscars last night, congratulations: we have all aged. (And in a big way. This year’s broadcast actually ran longer than Titanic, which won Best Picture twenty years ago. Exciting!) We hung out and watched hours and hours of award show only to find out that The Shape of Water won Best Picture, which feels like the Arrested Development-esque “Her?” of Best Picture choices.

But okay! Sure. If you like movies about falling in love with a fish-man, then it’s your time to shine and I hope you celebrated accordingly. And while I think the rest of us were rooting for Get Out, it also could’ve been worse, so alright, cool. The Oscars didn’t get it terribly wrong this year, but the thing is, there’s still a while to go before they get it right.

I wrote about something similar after the Globes, but I’m writing about it again because I think it’s easy for Hollywood to pat itself on the back and assume that because an award show monologue tackles sexism and racism and the industry’s stories legacy of inequality and straight male whiteness, it’s all over. But then Gary Oldman wins an Oscar (whose history of alleged domestic violence and casual anti-Semitism has been well-documented) and so does Kobe Bryant (who has been accused of sexual assault), and it all starts to feel a little hollow. Or at least a little tiring. Like, “Oh, okay — so there really is more work left than we can possibly imagine.”

And I don’t mean to be negative. I think Frances McDormand’s Best Actress speech was amazing, and I think her using it to shine the spotlight on every woman in the industry was incredible and important and embodies the idea of doing the work. I think Jordan Peele’s historic win for Best Original Screenplay was deserved and perfect. I think Guillermo Del Toro’s win for Best Director was a fair choice, and that his speech (“I am an immigrant . . . The best thing our industry does is to help erase the lines in the sand when the world tries to make them deeper”) was exquisite. I was so excited to see Daniela Vega present. I liked the Academy’s short video on representation and diversity, and I loved when Lupita Nyong’o and Kumail Nanjiani used their stage time to stand by Dreamers. Plus, Kimmel’s monologue was decent. (I mean, it was still delivered by a straight white dude who once hosted The Man Show, but points for growth and change and evolution and not shying away from, well, anything we’ve been talking about over the last few months, especially.) It’s not like the show was bad — you could tell someone, somewhere, was actually trying.

But then even some well-intended moments evoked the feeling of “Oh girl, no, stop.” Mainly when Emma Stone tried to do her best by introducing the Best Director nominees as “four men and Greta Gerwig.” Which, by actual fact, is true. (Because indeed four men and Greta Gerwig were nominated, that is true.) But one of those men was also one of the only the fifth black man to be nominated for Best Director (Jordan Peele). And another was a Mexican immigrant (Del Toro). And that made her effort seem like an exercise in traditional white feminism; one that clearly opted to overlook the dire importance of intersectionality. And even more confusing was that tiny effort was seen as a moment simply because she delivered a line. Because she said Greta Gerwig’s name. Because she relayed a basic logistical fact about gender representation in a specific category.

See? Aren’t you tired? I know, same.

And the thing is, things are changing. We know this because we’re starting to see the fruits of those changes and saw some of them last night. But at the same time, they will only keep changing if we keep calling time on any and all bullshit we play witness to. Like, Gary Oldman winning an Oscar? It’s boring bullshit. (And I liked The Darkest Hour because I’m a massive nerd. But who cares, because Daniel Kaluuya was unparalleled in Get Out, and Churchill doesn’t need another Oscar in his name. Also, Oldman’s history is a problem.) And Bryant? A strange contradiction in an era and show defined by #MeToo. Plus, any sequestering of “women” from everybody else. Because feminism without intersectionality isn’t feminism at all. And changes promised without concrete proof of those changes are simply words.

But I mean, we’re moving forward slowly, slowly. Because at least Casey Affleck didn’t present. Although I would’ve paid actual money to watch him be confronted onstage by Frances McDormand.


Tags: #metoo, Anne T. Donahue, feminism, intersectionality, Oscars, oscars 2018, topstory

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