Oscars and Monochrome
I spent the first half of my adult vocational life as a professional arts and culture reporter and columnist. As such, I got much of my understanding of our American society and the world at large from live actors on stages and from movie screens in darkened theaters.
My academic preparation and experience spending so much of my time in these places made for an almost entirely white male underpinning, from Shakespeare and O’Neil to Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppola. As a thirtysomething, I organized one Sunday afternoon gathering for women in local theater at my home overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Over chardonnay and pepper jack cheese, we plotted not so much a complete overthrow but at least a modest incursion into this one gender club: a revolution that lasted as long as the wine and crackers. We all went back into the tedium of just trying to keep our toehold as female actors, not directors; critics for small weeklies, not the union dailies.
That was more than three decades ago.
Sunday night is the Academy Awards: the last in this season of trophy nights for movie makers. One of my Facebook — and actual — colleagues wrote a post the other day asking what her online friends were going to do in lieu of watching this “boring” three hour red carpet extravaganza and celeb fest. A few said they were going out to dinner on an evening when reservations to favorite restaurants could be scored. Or turn to Downton Abbey on public television as it canters predictably to the end of a fifth hit season.
I admitted with no shame at all that the Oscars are my Super Bowl, without the salsa and tortilla chips and beer. And I am of course not alone, as millions if not nearly billions of viewers in almost every country tune in, either in front of their own televisions or in bars and other public places. I can’t remember ever missing them, and mostly staying up for the Best Picture category all those many hours later.
The run-up hype to these awards has seemed earlier, and the coverage around them more contentious this season, with understandable cries of dismay as the film Selma was bypassed in almost every category, depriving a gifted black female director and several black actors of even a shot at the prizes. It is an especially monochromatic line-up of contenders, following what appeared to be real progress in the past few years.
And then there are the other women.
The New York Times movie reviewer A.O. Scott has observed, “the American film industry continues to marginalize creative women and strew obstacles in their paths.” This critic noted that every movie nominated for best picture, best director and best screenplay is male with male focused stories, and that this year’s crop of movies about girls and women was blatantly ignored. While “Wild,” based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, which documented her long-distance hike across the Pacific Rim Trail, received best actress (Reese Witherspoon) and supporting actress (Laura Dern) nominations, it was shut out of the categories recognizing the overall excellence of the work. “Belle,” about a young black woman in slave-era England was doubly overlooked.
Nonetheless, there I will be come Sunday, in a recliner, scorecard in hand. Hopeful that next year in Hollywood . . .