New Orleans Ok, this is the Trump Era, so why would anybody care about the Oscars, now or ever? It’s a high-priced fashion show and a self-congratulatory industry back pat. Viewership has been going down steadily. The industry seems to be searching hardest for the pulse of viewers globally, especially in China, and, as some critics have noted, has lost its way in telling the great American story, although they certainly have a lot of company in that chorus.
Nonetheless, it’s like candy, no matter how bad for you, it’s hard to resist the significant cultural role the industry occupies and its impact on all of us. And, even juicier, we have a super flub this time for the hardcore, all-the-way-to-the-end viewers, where they were rewarded with another example of the chaos of our times, when for the first time in 89 years, the wrong winner was named for best picture. There’s a circular firing squad of blame and shame now, which is a delightful spectacle in itself, if for nothing else than a pleasant Trump diversion, about how Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway could have gotten the wrong card, and how Dunaway then, in the-show-must-go-on play announced that “La La Land” was the winner, rather than “Moonlight,” which turned out have actually won.
After two years of agitation on the theme of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy of Motion Pictures was already on their heels for white-listing so many movies and actors in the awards, so both supporting awards were won by African-Americans this year, including the first Muslim to ever win an award it seems. “Moonlight,” which is one of the few movies I have seen recently, was a hard, but beautiful, look at low income families in a Miami project dealing with drugs, poverty, and the long list of issues faced by all, including in this case sexual identity and bullying. In a white male dominated industry this was a pushback moment, which matters, regardless of the mix-up, though it is unlikely to represent a game changer. The industry studies the numbers, and 25% of tickets are bought by African-Americans in the USA, but that has not been enough to tilt the representation, either on employment or thematically, of African-Americans in the industry to date.
My first impulse was to think that Faye Dunaway in a classic Daniel Kahneman moment right out of Thinking, Fast and Slow, might have been so conditioned to believe that “La La Land” would win that her expectations and assumptions tricked her brain into believing she was reading “La La Land,” even when “Moonlight” was the winner. The story now spinning is that the envelope said, Emma Stone, Best Actress, “La La Land,” but Stone says she doesn’t want to get into any controversy, but she has her hot hands all over the envelope that said that. The bean counters claim there are always two envelopes, so it’s possible that was the problem, though I’ll enjoy my own theory for a bit with all apologies to Faye Dunaway, that sometimes, as the President is now teaching us, people see what they want to see, no matter what the facts and reality hold.
Any way you slice it, it’s #OscarsSoWhack!