Hey Oscar, how about not trying so hard?
Here’s the thing about being cool—the harder you try, the less you succeed. Case in point: last year’s Academy Award’s disastrous choice of hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco. This year the Academy may have taken a different route, but the results were pretty much the same. After the whole Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy debacle (the two backed out as executive producer and host after Ratner made a series of public sexist and homophobic remarks), it appeared as if the Academy was going to play it safe by dusting off Billy Crystal to host yet again.
And yet, from Crystal’s opening montage, it became apparent that this year’s awards were going to be another series of missteps stemming from the Academy’s desperate attempt to stay relevant while refusing to accept the changing nature of today’s entertainment. How else do you explain the bizarre mixture of Justin Beiber, Billy Crystal, and Billy Crystal in “black face” as Sammy Davis Jr.? The joke fell flat, and so did the rest of the show. With fewer and fewer people going to the movies, the Academy did its best to try and remind us of the golden days of cinema (see: The Artist’s win as Best Picture), but instead reminded viewers of how far the industry has and has not come.
Last Thursday I taught my lesson on feminist media studies to my students in WMS 150. In explaining to them the difference between quantitative and qualitative analysis, we talked about the different kinds of representation we see on screen and why that might be. I asked my students to watch last night’s broadcast and suggested they think about the number of women nominated for awards, the types of awards for which they were nominated, the types of roles available to women, and lastly to just observe in general how men and women were treated during the broadcast. In terms of quantitative data, the Women’s Media Center did a great job of compiling stats on this year’s nominations (http://www.womensmediacenter.com/blog/entry/where-are-the-women-at-the-oscars-the-stats). For example, this year, no women were nominated in the categories of Directing, Cinematography, Documentary (feature), Music (original score), Sound Editing, or Visual Effects. In only three categories, did the number of women nominated outnumber men, but in all these categories there were also male nominees. Clearly, the “male gaze” is alive and well in Hollywood. Need more proof? How about the “popcorn girls” walking down the aisles as the show cut to commercial break. Is this really the golden age of cinema to which we want to return?
There were some highlights, though. Gabby Sidobe’s moving comment that, “When I see myself onscreen, I know that I exist,” served as a reminder for the potential of how far the film industry has come, but also the distances it needs to go. While this montage as a whole was yet another way in which the industry seemed desperate in its attempts to prove its worth, Sidobe’s comment speaks to the media’s complicated relationship to difference—whether it be by gender, race, class, or body size. I applaud her for saying this and the Academy for including it.
Perhaps the best moment of the night, though, was on the red carpet before the main show actually began. When Sacha Baron Cohen, who came in character from his upcoming film The Dictator, spilled the “ashes” of Kim Jong-Il on red carpet host Ryan Seacrest, I thought to myself, “finally, someone gets it.” Cohen’s brilliant mocking of Seacrest, the Academy, and their self-inflated sense of importance may have gotten him escorted off of the red carpet, but by then it was too late. The joke was literally on them, and as Cohen reminded us, it has been for some time.