Re: “The Awkward Politics of the Oscars”

This is a response to Jia Tolentino’s “The Awkward Politics of the Oscars” which you can find here, in The New Yorker. I look up to her and her writing, and I can only hope to reach her level — I just felt that some of her claims were a little iffy. I’m not criticizing so much as reacting, and this is not intended to be an in-depth review at all. With that said, here we go.

Jimmy Kimmel, an otherwise decent host, made jokes about not being able to pronounce the name of an Asian woman brought into the auditorium for a bit about a tour bus, as well as (twice) the name of Best Supporting Actor winner Mahershala Ali […]

This shocked me as well. Honestly, I wasn’t “shocked”, but disappointed with a pinch of surprised. It’s truly a shame that Kimmel chose to make these jokes on a national stage, and while they might’ve been fine to tell at a smaller gig, the Oscars deserve a higher standard of humor.

Mel Gibson, who famously expressed doubts about the Holocaust, was brought back into the spotlight. Casey Affleck, who has faced allegations of sexual harassment, won Best Actor […].

This is a touchy subject, and I’m not quite sure what to believe. Should we separate artist from art totally, or should we consider the personal lives of artists when awarding something as coveted as an Oscar? If we choose the latter, what is the standard? The Academy being a private institution, they can do what they want. But one has to wonder where the line is drawn — if allegations, in Affleck’s case, or controversial views, in Mel Gibson’s case, are enough to bar a person completely. On this issue, I take no side 100%, but I’m inclined to agree with you. Actors, like anyone else, do represent their institutions, like it or not. And the Oscars must consider the implications of awarding their prize, whether those implications are related to the actual work of filmmaking regardless.

You then go on to criticize several actors’ and actresses’ silence about Donald Trump, namely Emma Stone’s. I must ask: do they have to use their positions politically? Normally, I would answer a firm “no”. But with Donald Trump, we’ve run into a real riddle: the man is so toxic and his presidency is so dangerous that it’s hard not to have a strong opinion. This doesn’t mean that Hollywood must be weaponized. At the end of your article, you say that Hollywood expressing these strong opinions has become necessary, but I still have my doubts about that. An actor can do what she wants, and requiring her to turn her victory into a soapbox strips a little of her personal agency away, both as a person and as an artist. In addition…

[…] an overvaluation of the political power of celebrities might be part of what got us here in the first place.

Well said.

“La La Land” and “Moonlight,” the two Best Picture favorites that were directly pitted against each other at the jaw-dropping end of the ceremony, had long ago become stand-ins for whiteness and blackness, or even, obliquely, for Trump and his opposition. […] At the Super Bowl, the Falcons and the Patriots occupied similar cultural polarities.

My question is this: are they really stand-ins for a racial battle, or is that view simply your own? La La Land is a fantastic film, and Mahershala Ali said as much after the ceremony concluded, adding that “La La Land has done so well and resonated with so many people, especially in this time when people need a sense of buoyancy in their life and need some hope and light.” Moonlight happened to be the better film, but does that mean that La La Land lost some kind of battle over America’s soul? I don’t agree with that.

To say that both movies represented some kind of racial dichotomy, I think, is an incredibly harmful way to see it. Do movies starring mostly white people naturally oppose movies starring mostly black people? If they do, why? While privilege does exist, and racism has a way of creeping into things through the back door, would it have been racist for Moonlight to lose — or would it have simply been a tossup between two excellent movies that happened to go the other way? The idea that something featuring mainly white folks and something featuring mainly black folks must be in racial competition with each other lacks nuance. It’s the same framework that produced the ideas of “whiteness” and “blackness”, trivial categories that attempt to reduce both groups into a homogeneous sludge, which they are not. I believe that such rhetoric is part of the problem.

As for the Falcons, I’m still pretty hurt about that. Maybe the Dirty Birds will rise up next season. Here’s to hope.

And yet it has been awful at translating these politics into action. Matt Damon is currently starring in a movie about the Great Wall of China. Minorities and women have been dramatically underrepresented for so long that even the slightest movements toward parity can either translate as overreach to those with conservative instincts or become bogged down with reparative weight.

As for The Great Wall, it is a movie created by Chinese filmmakers, featuring a sweeping cast of Chinese actors, and written by Chinese writers. Although it’s unfortunate that it stars a white man, that decision belongs to the film’s Chinese creators. There are a hundred thousand examples of racism in casting, and this is not one. Referring to this as an example is similar to sitting those filmmakers down and telling them how they’re supposed to feel, which has an array of problems all its own.

As for the second point, you got me.

I’m glad you wrote your piece, and I’m glad that this has now become a national conversation. I hope that we can continue to talk about these things and find a place, culturally, where these problems are rooted out by common sense and marginalized groups can have equal opportunity in this country. Under Trump, we’ll face lots of setbacks, and as a white, college-educated male, I know I won’t face the brunt of those setbacks. I look forward to the day, as I know millions of others do, when we find our way out of this puzzle. It’s the dialogue that’ll get us there.