Monday, February 29, 2016

The 88th Oscars, a Platform for Causes

The 88th Oscars was all about causes last night, whether it was the fight for Black Rights, Climate Change, Rape, Aboriginal Rights, Gay Rights, Women's Rights, or anything else that was mentioned in either the monologue, an acceptance speech, or the form of a nomination.

This broadcast is watched by millions and millions of people all over the world. It's a huge platform. When the Oscars asked Chris Rock to host, they must've known he'd address the elephant in the room, which was the white nominations. Or rather, the lack of black people on the ballots. Rock isn't afraid to be controversial and when the nominations came out this year, and there were no black artists on the list, the Academy probably knew Rock would address this issue. (Who am I to point out that Best Director went to someone who might not be considered a white man. Or by "white" do we mean everyone who is not black? I'm not sure but I think the hashtag (#OscarsSoWhite) that was circulating these past weeks, was poorly thought out.

In the opening monologue, Chris Rock "kidded" about how we have Best Female Actress category separate from Best Male Actor like it was a track and field event and the performance level was somehow different. Then he suggested we have Best Black Actor. I think he was kidding. I hope so.
I'm not about to critique the movies, the choices, the Academy, but we were told that black actors were snubbed many, many times. Idris Elba, Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan to name a few, apparently delivered Oscar worthy performances only to be left off the list.

Black lives do matter and mentioning that at the Oscars is a powerful message. Well done. Racism in Hollywood was brought to the forefront last night.

Rock's monologue made its point even if the point was delivered with a dose of bitterness. In what I thought was a strange effort to balance his message though, Rock threw Jada Pinkett Smith under the bus, saying she wasn't someone who would be invited to the Oscars anyhow and her boycott of the event was like him boycotting Rhianna's panties. He got his laugh then countered with a more somber thought.

Throughout the night, Rock tailored his introductions to drive his message home. The first presenters, a pregnant Emily Blunt and South African actress Charlize Theron,were introduced as two of the whitest women in Hollywood. They ignored the obvious insult, and delivered a classy presentation.
Even Sarah Silverman was insulted and minimized by Rock's introduction. Then, she went on to insult Sam Smith's James Bond song by insisting she hadn't seen the movie. What was wrong with everyone last night?
Rock introduced Cate Blanchett by referencing her Oscar-nominated movie about "girl on girl action" by saying it was the third best movie in that category (think p0rn) after which Cate presented costume design like the pro she is. They must not hear the intro's backstage.
Rock insulted Asian people in a schtick about the Price Waterhouse ballot counters by insinuating Asian's are tone deaf. He used children for that joke. As the mother of an Asian child, I didn't laugh.

Mad Max cleaned up on the podium and Tina Fey and Steve Carrell got big laughs for their banter at the microphone. I wondered if black people laugh at those two, something I never would have wondered before last night. Or at Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, whose banter was clever and witty.

In another bit, Rock interviewed people coming out of a theater in Compton who light-heartedly agreed that they didn't know most of the movies on this year's list. Fair enough. I didn't either. Whoopie Goldberg did a bit about being an opinionated janitor which was funny, Angela Bassett did a funny bit and Tracy Morgan portrayed The Danish Girl (the funniest moment of the whole night for me--love Morgan in drag!) after which I hoped we could move on.
But no, two children approached the stage, one of them I assumed starred in the all-white Oscar nominated movie ROOM and in the introduction Rock called the black child actor (who I presume was not nominated but should have been,) as "my man." Michael B. Jordan was introduced as "should have been nominated" as well. I've never seen white hosts do this before but I could be wrong.

I hadn't followed the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Maybe because I'm white or maybe because it didn't drift into my news feed this month. I've been working away from the internet. I am just a viewer who likes to tune in to The Oscars every year to see the stars and enjoy the show. I understand that people were enraged about the nomination snubs and maybe it was justified. I didn't see Straight Out of Compton or Spike Lee's film yet. I didn't see most of the movies nominated because I work full time and write books in my off hours. I like to watch The Oscars as escapism and to see clips from movies I might rent one day. Will Smith might have delivered the best performance this year but is that any reason to minimize Leo DiCaprio's performance and make him feel uncomfortable in the front row? That is Kanye West's style and now, unfortunately it's Chris Rock's style.
Even during the Girl Scout cookie sales in the audience, Rock asked "white folks" to buy his daughters' cookies. When Michael B. Jordan offered, he was turned down and when Lou Gossett held up his money, Rock said he was diabetic and instead turned to Leo to contribute because he's rich.

Customarily at The Oscars, we hear about injustices during the documentary acceptance speeches but the winners were slightly over-shadowed and traction this year was difficult. The Best Documentary Short Subject winner was A Girl in the River, a film about honor killing. The filmmaker announced that the film had had enough impact in Pakistan to change the laws for honor killing, something that has been legal until recently. Killing young girls in a non-white country. "Push women to go to school," the winner said. Wow.
When Lady Gaga sang her Oscar-nominated song about rape--You Don't Know 'til It Happens to You, and survivors appeared onstage it was one of the most powerful moments that night. Then the president of the Academy spoke eloquently, addressing the diversity issue. As the president and as a black woman, I thought her speech was eloquent, but at this point we'd heard so much, which was a shame.

It was a night of causes and I, for one, will be happy when the Oscars comes back next year having learned a lesson. I hope Chris Rock goes down in history (not just Black History) for championing for his cause but I also hope to never see him host the Oscars again. Although there were genuine moments of brilliance in his "comedic" monologue, his opinionated barbs dominated the evening.
Whether it's because this year's nominations were all white (not exactly true) or whether it's because the Academy snubbed some very talented black artists, I hope the Oscars learned something because this was the most uncomfortable, unenjoyable ceremony yet.

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