(Warning this may be part one of a one part post, we’ll see.)
The long and the short of it is, I know I am supposed to care. This year’s Oscars offer up a bevy diversity including the potential for the first female director ever to win Best Director. Bigelow’s nomination not only recognizing a female director for a film that isn’t fluff-feminism nor the recreation of a female closed shop (where the women in charge hire the same 5 friends for their fluff-masquerading-as-feminism films) but also for a story that should give us all pause. The Hurt Locker asks us to look at the impact of repeat deployment on “successful” soldiers and to subsequently redefine what “success” really means. Though the women in this film are largely absent, Bigelow’s eye coupled with the rare discussion or appearance of women, helps ground how war impacts the very families that jingoistic hawks say we are trying to uphold. And the long slow shots of children’s broken bodies, M.E. families trying to live their lives, and the market, never let us forget the human face of war without offering an over the top political statement ala my favorite war Director Oliver Stone. Her subtlety and her vision outmatch much of her competition in this category, so that her win is both a map to how to do it right in this CGI-laden story-light film industry and a chance to make his/herstory.
Equally important are the number of women of color nominated for major categories this year. Despite being snubbed by Vanity Fair, Sidibe is up for Best Actress while her co-star Mo’Nique is up for Best Supporting Actress. The film they star in, Precious, which tells a somewhat problematically stereotypical story of a young, poor, abused, black girl is also up for Best Picture an equally important distinction because it says stories about black girls matter too.
Black men also get the nod this year. Precious Director Lee Daniels is up against Katheryn Bigelow for Best Director. While this may seem to some like disloyalty, I don’t think he should win. Unlike Bigelow his vision often heightens stereotypes rather than dismantles them, his decision to highlight greasy pork during a rape scene was particularly fatphobic and profoundly inappropriate for the tone. He also failed to get certain things about the time period correct and even though his piece was not set in Victorian England, it is still a period piece, set to 1980s black America; yet, much of the critical contextualizing information about the 1980s is missing in this film. He also universally cast light skin black actress in the majority of the helping/healing roles while casting dark actress in the abusive and abused ones. His decision runs counter to the book, which offers initial salvation to Precious in the form of a dark, dredlocked, black lesbian teacher. Also nominated for Best Picture is the “true story” of black football player Michael Oher which does include a bit of the story of a young black man going from homelessness to football stardom even if the majority of the story is the excavation of the white [wo]man’s burden tempered only by its proximity to true events.
Even the Best animated film category has diversity. First and foremost, the only film I really enjoyed from beginning to end this summer, Up!, is nominated in this category. Not only does it feature a Chinese American main character but it revolves around love and loss through the eyes of an elder. When was the last time anyone took elder stories seriously in N. America? Also nominated is the uneven Princess and the Frog which centers another young black woman’s story. Despite all the criticism, Tiana’s presence in this category is a far cry from Hollywood’s normal myopia and an incentive for Disney to keep diversifying its offerings.
So yeah, from the perspective of a multiculti decolonized feminist blogger, there is a lot to pay attention to at the Oscars this year. As an intellectual who teaches media, I understand this all too well and expect that next semester when I teach multiculti media 101 I will be using some Oscar speeches and clips from many of the films and actors nominated (including Avatar). But alas dear reader, as a viewer, I must tell you that I am underwhelmed by the Oscars and have been for years. Not even diversity issues and an expanded line up have tempted me to turn from my regularly scheduled Sunday evening fair and so, you may have discuss these wins on your own.
(PS. I am however excited to see the Oscar nominated short film Music by Prudence, which I would not have heard of without the Oscars.)