For the Culture: The Oscar contradiction

William Evans
Jordan Peele at the Oscars

What I remember most about meeting a celebrity for the first time was the grace she displayed toward me in that moment. She was nice and generous to indulge my fanboy antics, and was shortly thereafter ushered into a car worth more than I could earn in a few cumulative years.

I'm reminded of this disconnect most when awards shows like the Academy Awards roll around, since I am the mark for such shows to feast upon. A film geek and a collector, I carry the low-utility knowledge of who got nominated and who didn't, what performances are worth their weight in Oscar gold and which will be forgotten by next year.

But awards shows are getting tougher and tougher to watch each year, even for me. Attendance is down, cynicism is way up and the way we see movies has affected the calendar, which doesn't necessarily line up with Oscar season, giving the awards less of a communal feel.

Even more prevalent is the disconnect between the social responsibilities that our country has started in earnest to promote and the attempts that these shows have made to integrate themselves into the conversation.

The most recent hashtag-producing movements have been #MeToo and #TimesUp, and both felt disconnected from this year's Oscar production.

Sure, Jimmy Kimmel came out and cracked Harvey Weinstein jokes, but Weinstein is an easy target. He's out of the Academy, an exile and was fading in power before the scandal. There was no mention of Casey Affleck and the harassment complaints that preceded him winning the Best Actor award last year, or of Gary Oldman winning the same award this year in spite of well-publicized accusations of domestic violence. And do we even need to go there with Kobe Bryant?

It is not that the Academy isn't actively working to correct course and be more attentive to these issues. It's that it isn't necessarily invested in real change.

Kevin Spacey is accused of misconduct stretching back years and is cut from “All the Money in the World.” However, in reshoots for the movie, Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams received wildly disparate compensation, with Wahlberg pocketing $1.5 million to Williams' per diem, which totaled less than $1,000. (Wahlberg, following the public controversy, donated his salary to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund in Williams' name.)

Then Jordan Peele makes history by becoming the first black writer to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for “Get Out,” a film about a profoundly black experience, in the same year “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a film that showcases unredeemable bigotry and racism, is awarded throughout the night.

While it's possible that divide speaks to true diversity in filmmaking, some of the chatter from Oscar voters who said that “Get Out” wasn't a legitimate Oscar contender makes that idea feel a bit generous as well.

Maybe these award shows are still behind the curve and these inconvenient contradictions will be less frequent in years to come. Or, like much of Hollywood, maybe the magic is in making things appear prettier and more polished than they might be in reality.