Guest Post: Paul Asay, Movie Reviewer, Plugged In:
It’s only fitting that Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water took home an Oscar for Best Picture (and three others) at Sunday night’s Oscars.
Both a lyrical, sensual fable and a brutal immolation of Leave It to Beaver-era America, the movie is a study in inclusion and exclusion: It posits that god-like mermen are people, too, while hypocritical Christian Cadillac buyers are the real monsters.
The film feels pretty emblematic of where Hollywood stands right now—a Hollywood that has pushed through the #OscarsSoWhite and the #MeToo movements with a desire to reward new, diverse storytellers, looking toward a hoped-for future while perhaps burning the (in Hollywood’s eyes) problematic past. As I watched last night, it struck me that the Oscars—and perhaps more so this year than ever before—aren’t so much celebrations of cinematic excellence as they are of its values.
And if your own values run counter to those of Hollywood, don’t bother renting a tux for the party:
You’re not invited.
During the ceremonies Sunday night, writer/comedian Kumail Nanjiani joked that he came from “Pakistan and Iowa, two places that nobody from Hollywood can find on the map.” That felt especially true last night, during a gala in which certain values were enthusiastically applauded while others were largely ignored. Despite pre-Oscar rumblings that the show would focus squarely on the films, the evening’s political/social -movement bent began with Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue and never really let up.
#MeToo received plenty of callouts, including a somewhat halting segment featuring movement heroes Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek. Common told the National Rifle Association that they were “in God’s way”—one of the very few references to God at all during the ceremonies, actually. And naturally, the evening’s loudest rounds of applause were reserved to the awards’ myriad trailblazers: Rachel Morrison, the first woman to ever be nominated for a cinematography Oscar; Get Out creator Jordan Peele, the first black man to win an Oscar for Original Screenplay; Daniela Vega, the ceremony’s first transgender presenter (and star of the Oscar-winning Foreign Language Film A Fantastic Woman).
Many of these plaudits and callouts are well-deserved and long overdue: America was built by folks from scads of different backgrounds. We Americans celebrate it, and rightfully so. Naturally, that diversity should be reflected in the stories we tell ourselves. For too long, Hollywood has undervalued some its most talented storytellers and craftsmen who happened to be a different gender or color.
But when the Oscars turned about and offered a salute to the military during the ceremonies, introduced by Vietnam vet Wes Studi, the juxtaposition was almost enough to give viewers ideological whiplash. And when Studi asked if there was “anyone else” in the audience who had volunteered to serve his country, as he had, those at home heard only a handful of nervous chuckles.
Values such as individualism and diversity were praised last night. Those can be values indeed worth praising. But we didn’t hear much last night about some other values I and millions of others hold dear: those of sacrifice, of duty, of kindness, of faith. Even as Hollywood encouraged us all to remember folks so often marginalized, it felt as though it had ironically forgotten a broad swath of the country whose values are taught around the dinner table and mess table, from the pulpit and in the small-town square. (Incidentally, this year’s Oscars may be among the lowest-rated ever, suggesting that Hollywood may increasingly be throwing its lavish party only for itself.)
Hollywood is not as blind to those values as sometimes critics might say. I look at movies like Wonder Woman and Black Panther, like Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, and I see films that embrace universal values like truth and courage and teamwork and love and, yes, diversity too.
But while Dunkirk and Darkest Hour garnered a bit of Oscar love, the sympathies inside the Dolby Theatre were elsewhere. Iowa was still missing from Hollywood’s map.
Thanks for your excellent and insightful analysis, Paul. You and the rest of the team at Plugged In including Bob Waliszewski, Adam Holtz, Bob Hoose and Kristen Smith, are an invaluable asset to families everywhere. It is the wise parent who first checks PluggedIn.com before buying a movie ticket, renting a film, tuning into a television show, downloading a song or allowing their child to play a particular video game.
Did you watch Sunday night? Which films of the past year would get your vote?