As the hours counted down to the Oscars, I began to feel that there might be some sort of a cosmic shift going on. I often get these feelings, and strangely, I’m often right. Though it went into the evening with a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations, “La La Land” was not feeling like a slam dunk for Best Picture. Call it Michigan running into Loyola Marymount (1990, you can look it up), call it what you will, my bones were getting that itch. In discussions with friends – white friends, I might add – we all expressed our hope that somehow “Moonlight” was going to pull it off, and for justifiable reasons.
While I (and obviously many) thoroughly enjoyed “La La Land,” it’s frothy lack of weight and frankly – for more than myself, I was finding out – its problematic Act II story turn when somehow its protagonists find a way to awkwardly pick a fight with each other so they can not just ultimately go their separate ways but completely lose touch with each other for five years, spoke to Best Picture vulnerability. Meanwhile, there was nothing not to like about the wholly-integrated purity of “Moonlight” and its deft story telling and acting.
As fate would have it, I missed the Best Picture announcement fiasco (why is unimportant), but as I went on line and picked up the firestorm it generated, I ran across an editorial by a young, black, internet journalist who had posted just prior to the Awards program beginning. Basically, he was sure that although “Moonlight” deserved the win, “La La Land” was going to get it. Quoting Archie Bunker and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, he lamented how “white identity politics” was going to prevail because the entertainment industry reflected the social politics of the day. Obviously, he not only badly miscalculated, he badly misunderstood. For better or worse, Hollywood is not Trumpland, of which Archie Bunker is perhaps the iconic OG.
And while this writer correctly pointed out that the Academy is still overwhelmingly white and male, and that the number of women and minorities has only increased by 3% as of this year’s voting, he drastically – and I think purposely – underestimated the integrity within the ranks of our colleagues. Perhaps it’s understandable. Black Lives Matter is all the rage and feelings of impotence and persecution bleed from politics to entertainment. White Status Quo is seen everywhere if you’re looking for it and expect to find it.
But it turns out that Hollywood is that strange animal – mostly white, yet not very conservative. In fact, for the most part, it’s downright progressive to wild-eyed liberal, and it would be unwise to sell even the semi-ossified Academy short when it comes to exercising its artistic taste.
While studios continue to churn out summer pabulum based on comic books, the quality of independent filmmaking continues to improve in depth and breadth. Of the 13 Best Picture Winners over the past 13 years, eight have yet to break $75M in gross in the U.S. Five remain under $50M. The highest grossing winner during that period is “Slumdog Millionaire” – a movie without a white person in the entire cast.
So, young man, don’t be a hater; instead have a little faith in the writers, actors, directors and practitioners of so many beautiful crafts and arts. People in this business know their business, know craft and quality when they see it, know it when they see “Crash,” or “Slumdog Millionaire,” or even a black and white silent film, “The Artist”; knew it when they saw “Shakespeare in Love,” or “American Beauty.”
And now, you know it too.