I have a few days to dwell on the Oscar best picture race in different ways (Lying “True” Stories, What the Oscar Bigwigs Want.) and todays will be: #OscarNotSoWhite.
The first thing to note is that #OscarNotSoWhite does not involve Asians. You see all those Asian led films being nominated? No? Yeah, no one does. Well, the reasonable explanation is that almost no Asians are leading films, so there are none to choose from… Yeah, that makes it so much worse.
This is the USA, and Asians continue to be invisible in all racial issues. OK, well, what did we get?
The powers that be were stung by #OscarSoWhite and as people frowning at them leads to poor viewing numbers, they wanted to do something about it. And we’ve got 3 movies (we’ll get to the 4th in a moment) from that: Green Book, BlacKKKlansman, and Black Panther. Are all these films just around as a reaction to the glaring Whiteness? Well, partly and for today I’m talking about that part. Spike Lee pointed out he’d never gotten a directing nom before, and the reason he did this time, as well as his film being nominated, is purely due to that reaction. The Academy tried to patch things by adding some Black members and that diversity got him a nomination. I’m not going to argue with that line of thinking as I see it either as mostly or the very least, partly the truth of things.
Then the Academy enlarged the number of nominees, mainly to fit in a few films that were popular but won’t win, but that also left some room for “Black” films.
So let’s look at those 3, starting with Green Book. This Black-led film… Wait… the director is a White guy? Huh. And he did Dumb and Dumber and Something About Mary? OK. Well, at least it is about racism in the country and the star is a Black man… Wait… The star is Viggo Mortensen (White guy) while the Black man (Mahershala Ali) plays his supporting character. OK. The film is based on a true story of a Black pianist being driven through the South… Wait… The story is based on the accounts of the relatives of the White guy. The Black guys family were not consulted and have said the whole thing is a pack of lies. Well, this isn’t looking good. And what is the theme of this film? It’s that racism has nothing to do with institutions, but is purely a personal thing, and if racists (no matter how extreme) and Blacks can just both compromise and meet in the middle and chat a bit, everything will be fine. Oh God. Yeah, this is your 1980s film on racism. Or it’s the film on racism that your Republican Uncle can accept now. This film has little to do with #OscarSoWhite as this this exactly the type of film out-of-touch White people make and have made for years. It’s embarrassing.
OK, lets get to the ones that are significant. Black Panther is inspirational for Black children. It is a blockbuster, superhero film for the masses with a Black director and a Black cast… none of whom got any nominations… So… yeah. And outside of being the right film at the right moment in time, it is…nice. It is. Is it, outside of it’s significance for diversity, a good enough film for an Oscar nom? Well, some pretty rotten films have gotten noms, so sure. It’s fine. It’s message is aimed at the masses, or at the children of the masses, so everyone can get it, without, you know, thinking. It’s nice. And everyone knows it is an Oscar Best Picture nom because of #OscarSoWhite and because they really wanted a blockbuster. Is it there because it is really good? I’d say no, both to it being that good and to it being there for being that good, but the second is the important part while the first is just my review.
Which leads us to BlacKKKlansman. This is a great film with something more interesting to say about racism while still making it understandable to the masses. It’s brilliantly performed and directed, and that director is Spike Frickin’ Lee, who’s been ignored forever. It’s funny, emotional, and meaningful, and according to Lee, it got here because the Academy didn’t want more bad press about racial issues. And according to the odds-makers, it doesn’t have a chance of winning. Lee has a decent one for Best Director purely as an “Ooopsy, we forgot you for 30 years” award, but not the film.
Black Panther, on the other hand, has a chance. Not a good one, but a chance, mainly because of how Oscar voting works. Getting a 2nd or 3rd place vote on a ballot is nearly as good as 1st, and Black Panther could make a lot of 3rd places. Still, unlikely, but possible. And if it wins, it wil be beating Spike Lee and BlacKKKlansman, and that is just sad. Black Panther doesn’t need this win, but BlacKKKlansman could use it, to push it a bit higher in the public consciousness. Black Panther will always be the first Black-led blockbuster to receive a nomination, but once we have a 2nd and a 3rd, it will be seen less for its cultural moment, and more for its storytelling, and it will fade, while BlacKKKlansman will always be great.
Of course a far more likely option is that all those elderly White voters who are trying to be with it will pick Green Book. Yeah. So, there’s that.
Which means it’s time to bring up the current favorite for Best Picture, the non-Black #OscarNotSoWhite film, Roma. And that’s a weird one. There’s lots to talk about with it (as an anti-Blockbuster, we’re ARTISTS statement, as a plug for new technologies, as a crushing rebuke of what the Oscar bigwigs have been trying to do, etc), but that’s for a different post. For this one, I’d say that Roma stands in a different area as it is a Foreign film. It’s not an American film made by Hispanics as we don’t have those. And it isn’t being looked at the same way. It doesn’t seem to be part of any American racial statement (oh, its nomination is a statement, just not a reaction to #OscarSoWhite). It’s part of other conversations.
So for this year, looking at the three films that are part of this conversation, Green Book is embarrassing, but as long as it doesn’t win, it is only a little embarrassing. It is wonderful that Black Panther was nominated, but it needs not to win. And BlacKKKlansman should win for multiple reasons, but it looks like it won’t.