Another year, another crop of movies all vying for that gilded little man on Oscar’s night. Twelve months of incredible cinema and cinematic performances will be recognized over several hours on Sunday night in a parade of barely tolerable jokes, ambitious dress choices and an unfathomably annoying marathon of pre-show coverage. While the cachet of awards shows has waned over the last several years and the #MeToo movement has cast an unflattering light on Hollywood, it’s difficult to make the case that the Oscars aren’t still the most important honor the movie industry has to dole out. Like it or not, they’re the gold standard of achievement and as such the films and actors who walk away with a trophy are not only thought of as top of their field, but also as the new benchmark of excellence for the industry as a whole. That is why, once again, we are making a very simple, easily achievable plea:
Oscars, please don’t be so white.
It’s really easy, all you have to do is simply not fall into tradition and start recognizing films that buck convention and really get audiences to think. There were plenty of those this year, two of the most notable were a social horror movie that boldly addressed racism among liberal elites and the other a moving visual history of segregation and racism in 20th century America. And what do you know, these projects were spearheaded by some of the most brilliantly talented African-American creators in the industry.
OK, so we know what some people are probably thinking. “Moonlight” won last year, that’s progress. “Get Out” and “Mudbound” are both nominated, doesn’t that mean something? We can’t just give out Oscars for the sake of highlighting diversity, we have to honor the best films. All of those points are true. It was a triumph that “Moonlight” won Best Picture. The elation that Black America felt when the jazzy cultural appropriation that was “La La Land” got dissed and dismissed after being incorrectly announced as the winner was incredible. When “Moonlight” was announced as the rightful victor, we were stunned, thrilled and so very happy. However, after that shell-shock dissipated, we were also a little annoyed that such a historic, noteworthy win was tainted with the circus that ensued.
And we’re certainly not minimizing the importance of films like “Get Out” and “Mudbound” being nominated. Jordan Peele and Dee Rees are two of the most talented screenwriters and directors in Hollywood today and we’re thrilled they are getting their just due. Their works were game-changing, they pushed the limits to their breaking point and succeeded. “Get Out” turned the horror genre on its head and proved it to be a strong, powerful device in commenting on racism. “Mudbound” was a tremendously moving, stirring portrait of life for two World War II veterans, one who is black and one who is white. What we are saying, however, is that while it’s great that these movies were nominated, the real test for the Academy will be whether or not these films walk away with the top prize. Which leads us to the last refrain and one I’m sure you’ve heard by now: These movies shouldn’t just been given awards to prove Hollywood’s commitment to diversity, they should just be the best movies.
We agree, 100 percent. The last thing we would want to have happen is for films like “Get Out” and “Mudbound” to run away with a prize they don’t deserve. But here’s the rub: They do deserve the top prize.
But they’ll only walk away with a statuette if the Academy is willing to recognize that the entertainment landscape and the world at large has changed. No longer should it be assumed that the epic war film or the hours-long biopic of an old white male politician should automatically be hailed as the best film of the year. Excellence on screen comes in being able to tell the stories that haven’t been told. To shine a light on greater truths and take audiences on a journey that challenges their beliefs, moves their emotional compass or educates them in ways they never thought possible. Great films are a reflection of the times they’re created in and hold up a mirror to society at large. Excellence shouldn’t be inherently tied to the re-telling of a white narrative, historical or present-day. We should embrace the stories of women, of people of color, of people from a variety of socio-economic situations. “Get Out” and “Mudbound” did just that. Much as “Moonlight” captivated audiences last year and proved that a movie led by a largely black cast, both on-screen and behind the scenes, so did “Get Out” and “Mudbound” do the same just in very different ways.
Particularly in the case of “Get Out,” the message and larger truth that drove the film would have been impactful and stunning even if viewed in a vacuum. But it wasn’t viewed in a vacuum. It was created and distributed at a time when profound questions regarding tolerance, institutional racism and civil liberties abound. We are grappling with a president and political machine that seem more consumed with dividing the nation through venomous rhetoric rather than bringing us together through productive dialogues. Because of these times, because of the challenges we face, “Get Out” spoke to us. It soared in bringing to light the institutional and hipster racism that many people of color face everyday in the workplace, on the subway, in the supermarket. At a time when much of the ire toward people of color seems to be radiating from below the Mason-Dixon line from a very special type of ignorant population, “Get Out” flipped the script while still providing effective social commentary. It was a horror movie, it was a comedy, it was a film that stands alone as one of the most profoundly effective works we have seen in quite some time.
“Mudbound” falls more in line with traditional Oscar contenders and winners. It’s a historical narrative with incredible performances, tug-at-your-heart-strings emotions and a moving conclusion. Was it as revolutionary as “Get Out?” No. Does it proudly stand as one of the year’s most surprising and stunning cinematic works? Yes, it certainly does. And finally, is it worthy of a gold statuette on Sunday? You damn right it does.
So while there is no doubt that Hollywood has crept slowly toward embracing a more diverse and inclusive definition of what it means to be a successful film, until winners like “Moonlight” are less of a novelty and more of a norm we will still continue to feel that Hollywood hasn’t achieved the level of woke-ness it thinks it has. Giving “Get Out” and “Mudbound” their just dues on Sunday night would be a very, very good start.