MCN Commentary & Analysis

17 Days To Oscar: I Am So Sad & Angry.

Writer’s block happens. But it isn’t happening to me right now. What is happening is that for over a week, I have been writing columns about different subjects and never quite getting to the end because everything feels like a bottomless pit.

It’s not COVID anymore. I am feeling pretty good about that, even as we have months to go before any real normalcy returns, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s this industry. Film and television. And how media covers it. And how many deals are being made. And how people are seeing the future, which always concerns me more than it should because 50 years later, we are surrounded by the real life manifestations of Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In improv, it’s called playing to the height of your intelligence… which human beings tend not to do. Even the smartest people.

Right now, we are in a time of massive transition. Some of it is moral. Some of it is financial. Some of it is social. Some of it is personal. Some of it is determining the future.

At the same time we are wrestling with massive, big picture issues, we have become a Nespresso society. Individual servings. Very expensive. Not very good. But if you put a charming celebrity up front, people will still buy this shit.

Everyone is still obsessed with their own stuff… what puts grub on their table and hair on their ego. And I can, and do, answer questions about all kinds of individualized things all day long.

“No… you are not going to be able to change the Oscar winners at this point. And the best we can hope for regarding the show is that it is a Steven Soderbergh experimental phantasmagoria that offers great highs and deep lows as we put this asterisk season in the rearview.”

“Yes… the relative success opening Godzilla vs King Kong is encouraging, but no one, including Warner Bros., should change their strategies or release dates based on one movie.”

“No… no one who has been paying the least bit of attention is surprised to read that Scott Rudin can be a completely petulant, abusive asshole to his employees, though he is brilliant and committed and has always been excessively nice to me to my face.”

“Yes… Netflix is in a sophomore slump. But they are still so successful that it is, for now, a matter of a few degrees of variation and not something to worry about before 2023.”

Etc, etc, etc.

But who cares about all this? I don’t. It’s watercooler talk in a moment where the industry’s issues are skyscrapers.

So I keep trying to take giant, complex issues – What Is The Future Of The Academy & Will It Survive An Imaginary Civil War? – and break them down into little Nespresso pods, where the discussion can be consumed. But the 20 Nespresso pods of The Academy Conversation are hard to contain.

I am part of the problem. If I drop one sentence into a column, for instance, on a subject like the abusive mindset of inclusion by exclusion, it just sets me off. There is a real “fuck the old white people” vibe that is as undeniable now as the “we don’t want a movie about two gay cowboys representing The Academy” vibe of 16 years ago. But no one wants to have the conversation in groups bigger than three of your closest pals who agree with you and who, like you, are afraid to say it in a room of 20 people. Both of these conversations, wherever you stand, are still dangerous.

There are many, many reasons why inclusion must be part of The Academy’s future and why many of the old white people agree and have worked in that effort and why an expanded Academy with a different perspective might find a road to a new greatness. But suggesting that the issue is social and requires time rather than beheadings to see real change is not an “approved” topic of conversation.

The dichotomy is older than The Jeffersons, a show made by liberals about black Americans obsessed with acquiring what white Americans had acquired much more easily for centuries. In retrospect, the show is a lot more complicated than its progenitor, All in the Family, because Archie Bunker was undeniably wrong for most of its run. Some Americans surely rooted for him, but he didn’t demand a fight between liberals on his sense of the world. Strutting, arrogant, pig-headed George Jefferson was both that show’s Archie Bunker and its black American on the rise who was overcoming the racism in his world. Racist cartoon or racial hero? Discuss at your peril.

Why do you, finally, want a piece of that pie, which was made with racism and slavery and entitlement and worse?

And why are the Academy Must Change Right Now people so satisfied with the poor showing of the Oscar nominations season with the most dramas by and starring black Americans (and Brits portraying black Americans) and promoted for Oscar with real money in the history of The Oscars? I count six of movies that fit this standard in a field of 15 or so total realistic contenders for Best Picture nods and only one of them got in. How is this a win?

Let’s not even start on there only being two movies led by, about or directed by women when women are 51% of the nation… and that both female director nominees grew up and/or have residency outside of America.

Well, Minari got in. And those two female directors got nominated. So race is no longer an issue at The Academy… apparently.

Huh?

Of course, this “Fix The Academy” people will say I am exaggerating. They will say I am protecting a racist, sexist past. They will say that I am asking too much of *Oscar this bent, broken, COVID season in order to diminish the accomplishment.

But I didn’t put out the “Mission Accomplished” banner. Mark Harris did.

The Harris piece is loaded with the kind of arrogant self-righteousness usually reserved for old white men, as he seems to perceive them. It is filled to the brim with poor insight into the film and television industry of recent decades, making harsh assumptions where factual insights might have dented the dogma. Moonlight + Parasite means everything has changed forever and if you disagree, you are just a scaredy-pants old hater.

I wish it was this simple.

But I have bad news for you, Mark. Your math is broken. For six of the last seven years, the film that has won Best Picture has been made by or starred someone of color… including the must maligned Green Book, which won a second Oscar for Mahershala Ali. It wasn’t the right kind of story about race or homosexuality, so it’s a lazy debater’s punching bag. Same with Crash… wrong kind of commentary on race… and it beat Brokeback Mountain, so burn that one down too. (There are other reasons to tear down both movies… but that’s a different conversation.)

And apparently, Mexicans don’t count on the Politically Correct Scoreboard, but South Koreans do… do I have that right? Someone call The Three Amigos and let them know that they, too, are now old white men.

It is hard to keep up with the rules about what really counts. So the most Black dramas ever to compete for Oscar failing to grab more than one slot (and I am not counting Malcolm & Marie) is not a problem… so long as two previous Oscar nominees and a posthumous movie star are recognized, we have overcome. Check. Got it.

(By the way, Mark’s book on Mike Nichols is magnificent and you must read it if you have not already. I like Mark a lot and I believe this is 100% well-intended, but is too absolutist in his social politics about this industry, outside of his investigations of history, to be reliable as an industry weathervane.)

But this is a digression from the big picture… which is why I am unable to get out of my own way writing…

What would we like The Academy to look like in five years… in ten years… moving forward?

If Oscar is going to bow to streamers who do not exhibit their qualifying releases in a way that keeps the playing field even for “traditional” theatrical releasing distributors, why bother having any theatrical release standard?

How can The Academy adjust its awards and other funded efforts to make international cinema a greater priority now that a third or more of the Academy membership lives and works outside of the United States?

In 20 years, when the vast majority of recent additions to Academy membership are over 65, what should the standing policy be for their involvement in the organization?

Is there a way to rethink The Oscars to assure that ABC or someone else will pay in excess of $40 million a year for the show?

I feel a little better, laying out these questions. I have a lot more… not just about The Academy, but about the future of the industry, which I am still confident will reflect my imagination of the next decade more than 95% of my media colleagues. And yet, I am still unsure about a lot of it. Much of it is unknowable. But it is all worthy of conversation…. even amongst people who really, really, really disagree.

I still love all of this. I still care, even if it is “just entertainment.” And I like so many people with whom I disagree rabidly. But we aren’t in a time when disagreement can be about the object at issue and not, somehow, personal.

Instead of quoting Rodney King, I am going to stop now… so at least I will have completely something this last then days. (I have shot some really fun DP/30s and got my second shot and ate out with friends and saw family… so I have done a lot aside from writing.)

I hope you will engage in the debates. I hope you will break away from the daily thinking grind. This next decade will be the wildest of the industry since the 60s into the 70s.

Later.

6 Responses to “17 Days To Oscar: I Am So Sad & Angry.”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    really good column. …. this especially, “what puts grub on their table and hair on their ego”. I also like that your statements/concerns are disparite, sometimes contradictory.

    Adding a few:

    I don’t like that the Oscars have become so small.

    Actor driven dramas are better now than they have ever been, and there are lots of them, but they are playing to the first three rows. Dramas should have their own genre category.

    The problems of our times demand power and great scale from movies…. the megamovies do this, but they should be better, especially the dialog.

    Fifty-five years after Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, angry impatience with the film industry is more than justified.

    Hollywood is now a small fish in a big pond. Maybe the corporate behemoths that call the shots, now, will do for Hollywood what it could not do for itself.

    We may be seeing more black representation, but who is making all the money? Easier to share the stage, than the cash.

    Will the NFL draft get higher ratings than the Oscars, a few days earlier? In demo?

    Can the Academy figure out how to become unpredictable?

  2. Bradley Laing says:

    —Thought about the Grammy’s tv show. The ratings for the Grammy’s were much lower than previous years, yet if that is because the audience watches less live television, this is not surprising. But how do you work a decline in a music awards shows ratings into a prediction for a movie awards shows ratings?

  3. Bradley Laing says:

    “We can barely stay put for a 15-second TikTok. How are we expected to sit through a dragged out, four-hour awards ceremony filled with ads and outdated offensive jokes? We’re living in the time of content curation. We need algorithms to figure out what we want to watch and to show us the best of the best,” he said.

    https://apnews.com/article/will-oscars-be-who-cares-moment-ratings-dive-c7c359947467e7852d7720d6f2588aad

    —There was a “the public has short attention span” joke in the 1987 movie “Amazon Women On The Moon.”

  4. Glamourboy says:

    Glad that with all these big issues facing people in the industry right now, it is worrying about the Oscars that is keeping you awake…what will they look like in five years? Ten years? When will they finally nominate the right films? Because those of us who work in the industry and are affected by this sea of change….we’re not sitting up worrying about the Oscars.

  5. David Poland says:

    Glamourboy… as I think I wrote, this is the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of things that worry me. But if people keep talking past each other and losing perspective, all of it will be harder. No?

  6. Sam says:

    I hope someone from the MCN staff reads this but when you click on the BYO Arclight Cinemas link, it took me to a message “Sorry you are not allowed to preview drafts.” I am guessing that someone (Mr. Poland?) is either still writing an article or pressed the wrong button. 😉

    ED NOTE: Fixed! Thanks

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