Progress, Not Perfection

After the tabloid-incindiery antics of last year’s Academy Awards presentation, anything that didn’t produce a potentially incarceratable incident that would eventually ban a nominee from the next decade’s worth of ceremonies would have been considered a step in the right direction,  Thankfully, last night’s event took more than a few steps toward redeeming and even justifying why these things should continue at all.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Feinberg basically echoes my feelings:

Maybe you’re a person who loves chaos, in which case the Oscars telecast was doubtlessly a large disappointment. Maybe you’re a person who hates Everything Everywhere All at Once, in which case the Oscars telecast was doubtlessly infuriating. Maybe you hate Hollywood folks and think it’s inappropriate for the recipient of a professional honor to get emotional, in which case the Oscars telecast gave you plenty to be snide about. 

As the credits began to roll at the end of Sunday (March 12) night’s 95th Academy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel walked to the side of the stage, where somebody had placed an industrial workplace sign reading “Number of Oscars Telecasts Without an Incident,” and he triumphantly flipped the “00” to “01.”

“No incidents” is a low bar, but if you ask me to list the most memorable Oscar moments in the past decade, The Slap and The Envelope Gaffe would be the top two, along with the blunder of closing the show with best actor two years ago.

Sunday’s telecast left me generally elated. Everything Everywhere All at Once was not my favorite film of the year, but I truly love what it represents. It’s a movie about family, a specific kind of family that has rarely been the focus of any movie, much less a best picture winner. It’s a work of bonkers audacity and the sort of film that no rational person would ever call “Oscar bait.”

What few personal interests I had were basically shut out–neither Steven Spielberg nor THE FABLEMAN’s record-breaking 91-year-old composer John Williams came away victorious.  Lady Gaga, despite once again knocking it out of the park with an emotional and stylized rendition of the closing credits song for the movie whose box office basically made the whole night relevant, TOP GUN: MAVERICK, did not win, either.  But those that did win were, for the most part,  justified, reverent, inspiring and deserving,

As Feinberg continued to observe:

There were several stretches in the telecast in which every single winner seemed to be in tears, starting with Pinocchio helmer Guillermo del Toro getting choked up paying tribute to his late parents. Ke Huy Quan’s win had even presenter Ariana DeBose in tears. You might say, “Surely he’s won enough awards this season that he couldn’t have been surprised,” but try being written off by your chosen profession for three decades and going from “Ha, wasn’t that Short Round?” to “Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan!” in the course of a year. Try being Jamie Lee Curtis and settling into a stage of your career in which you’re generally adored, but also have to keep talking about yogurt that makes you poop and then finding yourself accepting an award that both your iconic parents were nominated for but didn’t win and see if you don’t cry. 

Michelle Yeoh is 60 and once she didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, how could she have imagined this moment 20 years later? Brendan Fraser had become practically a forgotten man, and he allegedly experienced a trauma related to the industry’s other gold standard award show. You know who’s entitled to cry? Them.

As I threatened yesterday, I chose to sort of watch the show from my phone, because unlike some more entitled people I know, my boss didn’t throw an Oscar gala that I felt obligated to share pictures on social media with to maintain my high-paid position that justifies almost complete isolation on most other days.  So my attention span mirrored those of many who cared enough to know the results that Nielsen won’t immediately count when ratings are released later today.  I’m dubious that all of these positives will translate to a measurable audience uptick, one that ABC truly was banking on and, as I’ve previously noted, was clearly chasing with an unusually aggressive promo campaign both within the Disney media universe and beyond.

But those acceptance speeches, and many others, delivered live and what appeared to be extemporaneously, were rewatched and, for those who haven’t yet seen them, should be savored and appreciated.  And as Feinberg reminds, there were plenty of others that should be on your to-do list before they fade into obscurity:

Alexei Navalny’s wife Yulia took the stage for the documentary about her husband and declared, “Stay strong, my love.” M. M. Keeravani, part of the team behind RRR‘s “Naatu Naatu,” sang an acceptance speech to the tune of The Carpenters’ “Top of the World.” The Daniels, the creative forces behind Everything Everywhere, made multiple very good speeches thanking, among other people, the public school teachers who believed in them.

But please try not to react the way that Angela Bassett and those in her corner chose to.  Because, as Raven Brunner of DECIDER noted, many steps in the right direction simply aren;t enough for those who have dug their heels into a discourse and dialogue that honestly is a tad disturbing:

We’ve long heard the cries of “Oscars so white,” but tonight’s ceremony takes the cake. During the most anticipated award of the night, Oscar nominee Angela Bassett stayed seated as Jamie Lee Curtis collected her win for Best Supporting Actress, which many are dubbing a “legacy win.” 

During the time between the nomination announcement and the awards ceremony, many struggled to predict who would win, as Curtis has found success at other award shows during this season and gathered support for the nomination, her first at age 64 after over two decades of working in the industry. 

Then, there’s also the other elephant in the room: Black women and Black creators were mostly shut out of the awards ceremony, despite previous criticisms of the Academy being overly white.

Frontrunners like Viola Davis and Danielle Deadwyler failed to nab a nomination for Best Actress despite receiving universal acclaim for their respective roles in The Woman King and Till, along with director Gina Prince-Bythewood not receiving recognition for her work directing the Davis-led drama in the all-male category for Best Director, and many others. 

Given that tensions were already high tonight, the famed Scream Queen failed to win over Oscars watchers and Bassett during her sentimental win. The Black Panther actor notably refused to commemorate Curtis as walked to the stage, despite her counterparts jumping to their feet to deliver a standing ovation. In the broadcast, Bassett is seen not clapping for Curtis after her name is announced and as the camera pans across the front row, Bassett is shown sitting motionless as others clamored to their feet to react. 

The reaction on social media, where the most exaggerated reactions tend to be the ones that are expressed and amplified, was even more dismissive of Curtis’ selection. with Brunner quoting a few pointed examples:

 Tom and Lorenzo (@tomandlorenzo) March 13, 2023


— 𝗮 (@selarination) March 13, 2023

Me stealing the oscar to give it to Angela Bassett #oscars

— ♈︎ (@bvbhive) March 13, 2023

Another penned, “Angela Bassett’s reaction to Jamie Lee Curtis’ name being called…you can tell how much that Oscar would have meant to her. She is, was, and always will be incredible. I better see her on that stage SOON,” sharing a clip of the snub.

Angela Bassett’s reaction to Jamie Lee Curtis’ name being called…you can tell how much that Oscar would have meant to her. she is, was, and always will be incredible. I better see her on that stage SOON

— Spencer Althouse (@SpencerAlthouse) March 13, 2023

A third chimed in with, “Of course the #Oscars reward white mediocrity because in what world did Jamie Lee Curtis give a better performance in comparison to Stephanie Hsu or Angela Bassett?”

Talk about a slap in the face reaction.

The fact that the movie that Hsu AND Curtis AND Yeoh AND Quan contributed to the fact that THEIR MOVIE walked off with so much gold should be evidence that her work was indeed acknowledged and respected.  The fact that WAKANDA FOREVER has proven to be more populist and Bassett’s performance kept a vital, money-making franchise alive in the wake of the untimely death of its lead is acknowledgement from a larger and broader base of voters than just the Academy.   The Oscar voting represents the opinions of a select few whose votes determine who gets a statuette.  And if you’re not one of them, tough noogies.

The same kind of voices who chastise election deniers in far more meaningful votes. the same kind of geniuses who invested their money and efforts and channeled their financial resources into Silicon Valley Bank, the same kind of people who seem to believe only THEIR world view is accurate and that anyone who might have a dissenting viewpoint should be hushed, seem to be those that fuel the kind of insensitivity and consternation that Curtis is facing this morning.  It’s ugly when it comes in the form of speeches and rhetoric that we’ve seen lately at CPAC and on Tucker Carlson’s show.  It’s just as ugly when it comes from the other side.

Really, now, in the heat of the moment of a career finally reaching a level of worthiness  after four decades of mostly genre roles, to deny anyone–yes, even the offspring of two talented Oscar winners–a moment where she thanks those in heaven who made her at all rather than a co-star felt should have the same moment that Yeoh did because, well, you know, “we’re due” shows me we still have a long road to hoe toward the kind of environment where the Oscars will reach the scale of popularity and significance that was true when Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh won.

Progress.  Not perfection.  Frankly, I’ll take that over a bitch-slap any day.  I sure wish others would.

Until next time…

3 thoughts on “Progress, Not Perfection”

  1. I’m with you! There were a lot of great people who deserved recognition and went home empty. It happens to all of us. That’s called life.


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