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Semi-Obligatory Post-Oscars Blog Post

I had it all planned out.  I was going to go to an Oscar-themed trivia event with my fearsome trivia team, and use that as the hook for the semi-obligatory post-Oscars blog post.  I would have gone after Hollywood’s Biggest Night for being out of touch with American tastes, demographics, and realities by coining the hashtag #OscarsSoTrivial, and everything would have been terrifically satirical and witty.  But then my fellow teammates wound up getting stranded out of town, scuttling that brilliant plan.

So instead, I returned to my Bronx apartment to watch the telecast by myself, figuring I could post a detailed, insightful analysis of the telecast.  But just as Chris Rock’s already legendary monologue began, my digital antenna conked out.  So as he lit into the systemic benign racism of the film industry, I was only able to make out isolated words through a fog of broken pixels.

It’s around this point that I began to wonder why I was even bothering.  It’s the same argument we have with ourselves every year at Oscar time – why watch a bloated, self-congratulatory, frequently cringe-inducing ceremony simply for the sake of saying that we saw it?  Especially when the industry it’s celebrating keeps on demonstrating shocking tone-deafness towards crucial aspects of the society it’s attempting to entertain – race in America, gender in America, any political outlook beyond a narrow set of comfortable platitudes?  And when that industry only ever notices a slight fraction of the vast amount of work its artists are making?

(These two things are linked, but the way.  Take one example, the failure to nominate Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation which seemed to crystalize the whole #OscarsSoWhite backlash.  I’ve lost track of the number of conversations I’ve seen among industry insiders in which they say they didn’t know whether they could nominate him in the first place, given the digital distribution deal that was in place for the film.  Expect to see this more and more, as non-traditional means of distribution become the means for more and more diverse voices to get their films out to the public, disrupting the traditional filmmaking model in the process.  Since the Academy exists to celebrate and defend that model, the films it celebrates are bound to get less and less diverse as it circles its wagons, even when this doesn’t reflect the beliefs of the individual members.)

And yet – what became clear from the bits of the telecast my malfunctioning antenna allowed me to see was that this was far and away the best ceremony in some time.  People love to mock celebrities for embracing trendy causes, but nothing about this year’s telecast seemed the least bit trendy or shallow.  This ceremony mattered to the people on stage this year.  Representation mattered.  Issues mattered.  The state of our nation mattered. 

And believe it or not, the Oscars really do matter, petty and trivial though they frequently are.  They don’t make a movie great – indeed they have an alarming habit of ignoring greatness – but they provide a starting point for people searching for greatness.  Many is the budding student of film history who starts out with a book of past winners as a way of starting that lifelong conversation.  This year, a whole slew of other conversations managed to become part of the ceremony as well; hopefully they won’t end now that the show is over, and Chris Rock’s daughters’ Girl Scout cookies are being happily consumed.

Plus Mad Max won a whole bunch of stuff, so that’s pretty cool.

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