What #OscarsSoWhite Helped Me See (+2020 Oscar talk)
With all that has being going on this week in the nation, I feel like I might be one of the few who is looking forward to the upcoming Oscars this Sunday. “Looking forward,” might be a little too strong of a description given some of the problems with the Oscars that we’ll get into, but I love movies and will be watching nonetheless.
I’ve previously written about how I feel like movies, television, books and music can all be instrumental pieces of art that help us look out passed our own experience of the world and experience the lives of those who are somehow different than us. In that way,
I strongly believe that these mediums can be fantastic starting points to learning to build sympathy (or even empathy) for folks we wouldn’t normally come into contact with and eventually work to create space for those people to live authentically.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to give a rundown and predictions of the upcoming Oscars, but first I’d like to tell you a story about how #OscarsSoWhite helped me identify an area where I could do better in my own life.
It was 2017 and I was very much excited to be going to my good friends Courtney and Bradley’s house for an Oscar viewing party. As someone who loves movies for many reasons, I’ve always tried to see a few of the Oscar nominated films prior to the awards show so that I could be a little more invested in the ceremony, but 2017 was the year I got MoviePass which took that to the next level.
If you’re unfamiliar with the company formerly known as MoviePass (RIP), they offered a membership service in which you were able to see up to one movie a day for a monthly rate. They gave you a charge card that the company would fill with money each time you selected a film to view. I joined the membership program when they had reduced monthly rates to $10 per month meaning that I could see up to 30-31 films each month for that price. If you’re wondering how a company with that type of business model could stay in business, the answer is, they could not. After hemorrhaging money for a couple years of a downward spiral they finally went out of business.
Now, I didn’t go to the movies every day of the week or anything, but I took full advantage of the joy that was MoviePass for that year I was a member and saw as many films as I could. Leading up to the Oscars, I was doing my best to see each film that was nominated for the Best Picture award and doing a decent job of it. That Sunday, I decided that I had enough time to fit one more in before the viewing party that evening.
I quickly pulled up the list of nominations for Best Picture to find ones I had seen...
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester By the Sea
...in order to identify the films nominated that I hadn't seen...
Normally I probably would have just picked one and gone about the rest of my day, but as a person who tries to be somewhat “woke” I had been made aware of the #OscarsSoWhite movement that had started in 2015 which made the point that most movies and people honored by the ceremony have been white. I mentally agreed with the idea that more people of color should be represented in TV and Film so I would have told you that I “supported” that movement.
That said, and you might already know where I am going with this, the one thing in common with each movie that I had seen that year nominated for Best Picture was that they all predominately white movies. It’s important to note that 2017 was actually the year that a lot of folks were proclaiming that #OscarsSoWhite was no longer needed (LOL) due to the high number of movies nominated for Best Picture with people of color: 4 out of the 9.
Needless to say, I was stunned. “What the fuck, Lance,” was my immediate reaction. I hadn’t purposely only saw movies with predominately white casts by any mean, and yet when you stepped back it was clear that there was an issue here. I quickly found the only option that worked in the time I had and sheepishly watched Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe give stellar performances in “Hidden Figures.” I went to my friend’s party and had a great time. This was the year “La La Land” was mistakenly read to receive the Best Picture award before one of the La La Land creators corrected the error noting that “Moonlight” had in fact won Best Picture. It’s like the Universe really wanted to underscore the issue for me in case I hadn’t picked up on it.
I could double down and dig deep to find some excuse as to why I hadn’t yet seen one of the films with leads who were people of color (POC): “I was working 50+ hours a week, I just wasn’t as interested in the subject matter of those films (problematic excuse), or I didn’t purposefully avoid them!” I also know that speaking about something like the situation I found myself in isn’t the norm because God forbid we are called the R word (as if being called a Racist is the worst aspect of racism in our society. It's not). That said, none of that would be taking responsibility for my actions, or exhibit any awareness of the systemic racism within our culture. Sure, I didn’t purposely avoid those films, but I subconsciously gravitated towards the ones with all white leads. That might be due to the fact that most of our media focuses on white lives and stories both when you examine things now but especially when you take the last few decades into account. It was clear to me that whether I believe it or not in my head (remember I was the ‘woke’ guy aware of current injustices in the world) my actions were displaying my true belief that I am not happy with: that white stories in media were the ‘norm.’ I was also helping to continue systematic oppression of people of color because money talks, and I was giving all of MoviePass’ to films with predominately white casts.
As I said, it seems like folks are very hesitant to ever admit to any type of behavior and actions - even if unintentional - that could be seen as racist. White people seem to believe that unless you are saying the n-word or calling for lynchings, we aren’t in any way ‘racist.’ That is just flat out wrong. The issue is that, just because we don’t want to use the word, our behavior can still be problematic. Additionally, if we truly want to live in a nation where we mitigate the effects of racism, how are we supposed to improve if we aren’t honest with ourselves in ways our behavior makes us complicit?
I am thankful for #OscarsSoWhite because it put the thought in my head that this was something to be mindful of. If that movement had not been started by April Reign back in 2015, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice that day. If you’re interested in the current state of the movement, I’d recommend this article written by April. As you’ll see when we go through nominees, we still have a ways to go.
With February being Black History Month, and the mission of BraveNewLove being to create space to allow others to live authentically through discussion of life, wellness, and faith, we’ve chosen a book for our first virtual book club called “How to Be An Antiracist,” written by Ibram X. Kendi, a New York Times bestselling author and the Founding Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. My hope is that the process of reading the book will help to identify other ways in which white folks like me can identify problematic behavior in our own lives, and learn ways to create space for people of color.
If you’re interested in reading along, I’d encourage you to check the book out from your local library, or you can purchase here as well. It is only in hardback at this point, but the price is reasonable and I honestly think we should do our part in supporting black thought leaders like Kendi. I’d love to have you join us for this journey together and welcome your input along the way. My current plan is to keep the commitment level low by simply committing to read on our own and then either I or someone of color who would be interested* posting an essay on BraveNewLove on the topic.
Now let’s set our sights on this year’s ceremony!
One of my favorite movie reviewers gives her thoughts on the nominations each year and gives a who ‘should win’ and who ‘will win.’ I like that format quite a bit and will follow it here with the “should” being my pick (usually) and the “will win” being the most likely outcome given my opinion of how the Academy votes and based on current industry talks I've seen in the trades. Here is a full list of nominees if you're interested in seeing the entire list as I'll just be covering the categories that I have an opinion on.
Ford v Ferrari
Jojo Rabbit Joker Little Women Marriage Story 1917 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Parasite
Who Should Win: Joker or Parasite
Who Will Win: 1917
I recently wrote a post that mentioned both Joker and Parasite which I think give insight into why I believe both of these pictures should win in case you’re interested.
I believe that 1917 will win this one because it is a war movie with a fantastic and expertly executed concept of being a one shot film. The movie also has a lot of head heading into the Oscars and I think will be taking home many awards.
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once upon a Time...in Hollywood
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes
Who Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Who Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Again, my essay that mentions Joker gives my reasoning as to why I think Joaquin Phoenix should win for his transformative performance and while I feel like this might be the only win for the movie, I think it is a lock.
Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy
Who Should Win: Unsure
Who Will Win: Renee Zellweger or Scarlett Johansson
This one is tough for me because I’m not particularly passionate about any of the nominations. I think to Cynthia Erivo gave a great performance in Harriet but has made controversial comments in the past, and I wouldn't mind seeing Saoirse Ronan, who is on her fourth nomination without a trophy, win for anchoring Little Woman so well. I loved Charlize’s performance in Bombshell, but I don’t think it will win because it was slightly out of place in that film in my opinion.
I think that Renee Zelweger might win because the Academy loves a biopic, or Scarlett Johansson despite some of her controversial comments about being able to play other ethnicities.
Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once upon a Time...in Hollywood
Who Should Win: Brad Pitt
Who Will Win: Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt has won for being a producer before, but has never won for acting. I believe that he deserves an Oscar not only for his performance in Once Upon a Time, but also for his work in an overlooked film from this year called Ad Astra. Joe Pesci might upset him for coming out of retirement for the Irishman though.
Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson, Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, Little Women
Margot Robbie, Bombshell
Who Should Win: Scarlett Johansson
Who Will Win: Laura Dern
I feel like Scarlett Johansson’s supporting role in JoJo Rabbit is the strongest in this field. I believe that Jenifer Lopez should have at least been nominated for this one for her role in Hustlers, but think the Academy wanted to send a message to stay in her lane (which is crushing it at Half Time shows!).
Laura Dern is going to win this one because she has won every award leading up to the Oscars. While this is not my favorite performance from Dern ranked against her other work, I'd also love to see her win. Who doesn't love Laura Dern?