Tuesday 6 March 2018

And the Winner for Best Political Moment Is ... the Oscars

Written by: Mark Rahner, YES! Magazine
If you’ve got a conscience and you’ve got a few seconds in front of a billion people, how could you not speak out against injustice?
At the 1973 Academy Awards, Sacheen Littlefeather refuses the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando who won for his role in The Godfather. She carries a letter from Brando in which he explains he refused the award in protest of American treatment of the Native Americans. Photo from Bettmann/Getty Images.
A week after conservatives had their CPAC gathering, it’s The Liberal Hollywood Elites’ turn to throw their own party—also known as the Oscars.

At least that’s how you’re likely to think of the Academy Awards if you’ve been exposed to talk radio or Fox News.

Host Jimmy Kimmel is guaranteed to roast President Trump to some degree, and you could make a drinking game out of the number of winners who make #ResistanceStatements before the orchestra plays them off. And #MeToo (sexual abuse) will surely show up. And #NeverAgain (gun violence).

Cue the outrage.

Those political moments have become expected, even if they’re not part of the Academy’s official plan, let alone the event’s purpose.

Start in 1972, when Sacheen Littlefeather declined the Best Actor statue for Marlon Brando in protest of depictions and treatment of Native Americans, and go right up to last year, when Iranian director Asghar Farhadi had a surrogate read a statement about “the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”

Look, Transformers flicks notwithstanding, film is an art, and the arts teach us how to be human. (See also: “the humanities.”) They broaden our perspective and teach that quality Republican lawmakers mock: empathy.

Of course, they get pissed at the Oscars. They’re the ones making it harder to get a college education and making a liberal arts one an exorbitant boondoggle. They know that the more educated people are, the less likely they are to be conservative or religious. The head of the GOP couldn’t be a starker embodiment of the bigotry, misogyny, and general lack of principle that can fester in the absence of a liberal arts education.

Film is an art, and the arts teach us how to be human.

This year, there’s plenty of opportunity for political statement. Nominees include stories about Black people (Get Out), gay people (Call Me By Your Name), women (Lady Bird), the miserably poor (The Florida Project), and plenty more subjects that fall outside a lot of Americans’ day-to-day experience. In the way that traveling broadens the mind, exposure to people who aren’t the same as you can only help. Unless you’re exposed to Ben Shapiro.

Which brings up a key difference between the Oscars and the Conservative Political Action Conference.

CPAC audiences cheer at Obamacare’s obliteration and millions losing health care, making it resemble a massive live production of the DSM-5 highlighting antisocial personality disorder.

But those liberal elites who dare to mouth off at the Oscars do so for humanitarian reasons.

Let’s say you’re an artist, you have a conscience, and you’ve got a few seconds in front of upward of a billion people worldwide. How could you not speak out against injustice?

Especially now, under a kakistocracy that threatens nuclear and environmental disaster, wages war on the poor, the social safety net, and even facts. It’s practically a moral imperative not to just grab your little golden dude and get offstage. The latter is infinitely more an act of privilege.

When Michael Moore got his 2003 Oscar for Bowling for Columbine and blasted a “fictitious” president and the war in Iraq, he drew a mixed response and became even more of a hate target than he already was for making the movie. But 15 years later, knowing George W. Bush was illegitimately installed and Iraq had zero to do with 9/11, doesn’t Moore only look more righteous and the ones who booed him more like jerks?

And the movies being honored? If you think Oscar-worthy movies are strictly about excellence, maybe you also believe the Grammys are strictly about the best music in America (cough). No, they’re all making statements.

The Shape of Water subverts tradition by depicting what would have been the Yankee alpha-male protagonist as the despicable villain.

In Get Out a young Black man goes with his White girlfriend to her affluent parents’ home for a weekend that goes from awkward to horrifying. A truly great film? Nah. It’s a well-crafted satirical thriller that unsubtly echoes The Stepford Wives. Director/writer Jordan Peele crafted an entertaining riff on racism at a time when racism is spiking that isn’t an off-putting lecture. Even liberals cool with Colin Kaepernick taking a knee can watch Bradley Whitford’s patronizing dad character and think twice before they open their mouths next time.

Steven Spielberg’s The Post chronicles the rebellious publishing of “The Pentagon Papers,” which eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon. A stirring reminder of the importance of the free press, it couldn’t be more important now when Trump has lied six times a day, attacks the press fascistically as “the enemy of the American people,” and the “fake news” refrain for any reporting that doesn’t favor him has become the conservative rejoinder against accountability.

That said, I think we can all agree that Crash winning Best Picture in 2006 was a stinker. They meant well.

I’m looking forward to the outrage over Oscar politics next year, when Black Panther wins everything—even though, as Shapiro pointed out, Wakanda is not a real place. 

Mark Rahner is a veteran journalist, talk radio host, comic book author, and podcaster based in Seattle. This article was originally published on Yes Magazine.


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