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(Political) The Third Rail: Anger in Activism

Politics 150The 88th annual Academy Awards aired Sunday night, and like all good cinephiles I watched. It was a last-minute decision, though; with the eruption of protest against the Academy’s decidedly monolithic nominations (all 20 acting nominations were white, and there were depressingly few POC, female and other minorities nominated in the other major categories), I had to struggle with the question of whether or not to continue supporting (in my relatively meaningless way) an organization that still put up barriers to anyone who wasn’t white or male. In the end, I decided to watch but make it a point to watch and promote movies produced, written, directed by and starring people of color in the coming year. That particular moral dilemma resolved, I sat down with a bunch of friends to see Leonardo DiCaprio finally get his Oscar and Sylvester Stallone get passed over for Mark Rylance. Uhm, better luck next time, Sly?

It was a pretty good ceremony, I must say. Host Chris Rock did a good job (mostly), though a few of his jokes didn’t land. Still, a few missteps in a four-hour telecast isn’t bad. While checking Twitter Sunday night, though, I noticed something that was capturing the attention of my sphere of activists beyond what was happening on TV — the #NotYourMule response to other people of color calling out Rock for not speaking up more on behalf of non-black minorities.

On one hand, I get it. Rock had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the lack of diversity plaguing even the liberal bastion of Hollywood, and he used it to highlight the reality of black artists and creatives trying to make it in that town. He spoke on behalf of the community he was a part of, and I thought he did it well. But those jokes against Asian-Americans that were not cool, and us black folk aren’t the only ones suffering under the non-inclusive status quo set by studio heads, producers and power players. It would have been nice to use the platform to remind everyone involved — black and white — that Asians, Latinos, native Americans and others are also desperately in need of more representation in the stories we tell.

On the other hand…the protest against Rock came across to a lot of us as tearing down an activist at a time so many of us were invested in him. On a night the black community wanted to celebrate a major milestone for AA activism, we had to field attacks from our flanks about why Rock hadn’t pushed them too. It feels like there’s an expectation for the AA community to do all the work, push for equality, and have other groups walk through the door that they spent so much time breaking down.

I KNOW that’s not the case. Asian, Native American, Latino and transgender activists have done amazing work over the past few years increasing the visibility of issues specific to their communities. We’re all working hard in the progressive space to make sure inequality and injustice is dealt with and taken out of the structure of our society. And in so many cases, when these issues are brought to my attention, I highlight them as best I can (even if that means a simple retweet or repost on Tumblr). It’s definitely not much, but I’m still figuring myself out — I don’t do enough even for the causes I’m personally invested in.

There are so many fights on so many fronts, because white patriarchal supremacy affects all of us in a kaleidoscope of different ways. With the resistance that each of our groups face against simply being recognized, most days it’s all we can do to fight the fight that directly affects us. The problems we face, personally and on a social level, leaves us angry, frightened and tired. I see it all across Twitter — people are fatigued, y’all. How many times do we have to explain the institutional nature of racism or debunk the same tired counter-arguments again and again before we can move on to fixing the problem? When will it ever feel like we’re making progress?

That anger, that frustration, that fear causes so many of us to lash out against the folks we ought to be aligning with. In spaces like Twitter, where communication is limited to little more than sound bites, we construe the worst possible meaning from a careless or incomplete thought and attack immediately. We spend our time fighting each other instead of listening to and ironing out our grievances so we can get back to the work at hand — building a better, just world for everyone.

It breaks my heart to see the fallout from the Oscars and #NotYourMule take our eye off the ball. The #OscarsSoWhite movement has the potential to affect real change in the entertainment industry, with the Academy putting a concerted effort together to invite more under-represented communities. We need to use this momentum to continue the conversation, to show how great a multi-racial Hollywood could be, to unite and amplify our voices for effective change.

But instead we’re fighting amongst ourselves, taking out the frustrations we’ve harbored over long and endless years of activism on each other. It’s not a good look. Our anger shouldn’t be directed at other people who are just as underserved, just as tired, just as frustrated as we are. It should be put to work helping our fellow minorities, teaching them how to use their voices to shout for the causes they believe in. We don’t have to do the work for them — we shouldn’t — but we can help them in their own work.

We have to find better ways to relate to our brothers and sisters in this struggle. We’re all hustling out there, and since we’re just fallible human beings there are going to be blind spots. There are going to be times when even the best of us (I’m looking at you, Meryl) get it wrong. There are going to be times where we disagree, and it’s important for each and every one of us to start paying attention to how we handle those situations. Do we use them as moments to correct and connect, or does our anger run away from us to push these people away?

I have a quick temper, and I’ve had to work very hard to change my relationship with anger. It’s still a work in progress — but I truly believe that anger is simply an emotion, neither good or bad, and what matters is what we do with it. Anger can be used as motivation to push us into action; it can be used as steel to strengthen our resolve and remind us of the injustice we’re fighting to change when we get weary. It can give us the courage to stand up firmly for what we believe in. But it can also be used as grape-shot to bloody friends and foes alike, and its indiscriminate use hurts the people we should be trying to help.

So to my non-black people of color, to my family of various sexual orientations and gender expressions, to the strong and amazing women out there; I see you. I know it’s hard out there. I want you to know that I understand your frustrations, and I want to help. Let me know what you’re doing to push against injustice and get an equal shot in our society and I’ll do what I can to spread the word. If you’re working, I want to know. And I want to stand with you. I’m not your mule, but I am your friend. Let’s roll up our sleeves together.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2016 in Politics, Pop Culture, Self-Reflection

 

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My Wildly Inaccurate Oscar Predictions 2013

Entertainment 150As almost every cinephile knows, the Academy Awards will be held this Sunday, capping off a few months of hype and speculation about which movie will be crowned the best movie Hollywood made all year. Whichever film takes the honor will have quite esteemed company, joining the ranks of Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, The Godfather, The Silence of the Lamb, and others. We’ll honor the actors, actresses, directors, technical wizards and other behind-the-scenes guys who worked tirelessly to bring us stories that entertained, provoked and amazed us. I love this time of year. It’s the movie lover’s Super Bowl.

And just as sports writers prognosticate on which teams will hoist the Lombardi Trophy and why, movie buffs make their guesses about who’ll be carrying home those Oscar statues at the end of the evening. It’s fun to test your knowledge of not only the movies being nominated, but the political game behind Oscar — it’s a curious, fizzy mixture of sheer talent, personal perception and industry buzz. To me, the perception of the nominees is almost as fascinating as the work they’ve done to get to the big dance.

I thought I’d take a moment to write down who I think will win and who I think should win in the major categories this year. Keep in mind that these guesses aren’t based on any sort of expertise or insider’s knowledge. I haven’t even seen all of the Best Picture nominees, and much of my perception is based on picking up what’s in the echo chamber and throwing it back out there. Don’t use me for your office Oscar pool, whatever you do.

BEST PICTURE
Should Win Life of Pi. Though it wasn’t perfect, Life of Pi was certainly the most ambitious of all this year’s nominees. It told a spiritual fable in a way that was accessible, engaging and beautiful, and hit all of the right notes at the right time. The story was long thought to be unfilmable, and three different directors gave it a shot and passed before Ang Lee hammered it into shape with extraordinary patience. While most of the other nominees this year have a bit of emotional distance built into them (with the exception, perhaps, of Django Unchained) Life of Pi encouraging engagement as well as a more intellectual pondering. It’s the perfect blend of storytelling, and a worthy entrant into the ‘time capsule’ of movies that have won Best Picture. It tackles age-old themes in a thoroughly modern way, creating a snapshot of the way we think and feel in this day and age.

Will WinArgo. It’s been riding a wave of good will ever since the perceived snub of Ben Affleck for Best Director, and I see no reason why it won’t ride it all the way to the end of the evening. It looks like it’s shaping up to be a two-way race between Argo and Lincoln, and people just seem more passionate about this movie. And that’s fine, I guess — it’s engaging and very competently directed. Affleck has come a long way from his string of flops, but I think The Town and Gone Baby Gone were both more gripping.

BEST ACTOR
Should Win — Daniel Day-Lewis. Hands down, one of the finest actors working today, if not the very best. He makes Lincoln seem alive, to use the cliche — there’s humor, anger, wit and weariness all written across that craggy make-up of his. A lot of the movies best moments come down to Day-Lewis’ delivery; he knows when he really needs to sell a scene and when he needs to pull back. All in all, it makes for the most accessible, humanized Lincoln I’ve ever seen. Joaquin Phoenix comes close for his role in The Master, but Daniel Day-Lewis quite simply stands head and shoulders above even that.

Will Win — Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m not sure there’s even room for a “dark horse” candidate. In a weaker year, Bradley Cooper could have charmed his way to the award for Silver Linings Playbook, and again Phoenix can’t be ignored for The Master. But no one expects them to upset. Day-Lewis has got this locked.

BEST ACTRESS
Should Win — I’ve only seen two out of five Best Actress nominees, so this is the major category I know the least about. Of the two, I can only imagine Jennifer Lawrence being a serious contender; Quvenzhane Wallis is just happy to show up. And everything I’ve read says that Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Naomi Watts and Emanuelle Riva all turned in incredible work. I probably won’t have much of an opinion on who should win until I catch up on Zero Dark Thirty and Amour this weekend. Sorry to cop out on this one, guys!

Will Win — Emanuelle Riva. I have a hunch. People really feel like this one goes to Chastain or Lawrence, but there’s a very strong undercurrent of praise for Riva’s work in Amour. Both of the other front-runners are great actresses with long careers ahead of them, so I believe they’ll get another shot. Riva is my pick for the “surprise” of the evening.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Should Win — Tommy Lee Jones. He was having such an obvious blast in Lincoln, he nearly walked away with the movie. He anchors the scenes in Congress, serving as a fiery, wonderfully crotchety senator that’s Lincoln’s best worst ally. The nomination field is full of similar roles this year, and this one worked best.

Will Win — Robert De Niro. As good as Jones was, it feels like the wind is blowing De Niro’s way. He’s been getting a lot of buzz for his role as a dad with OCD (maybe?) in Silver Linings Playbook, and many people see it as a welcome return to form after a decade of paycheck movies.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Should Win — Anne Hathaway. Have you seen her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”? It feels like Les Miserables was building up to that moment early on in the film and the rest was just interminably long denouement. It was a searing performance that came out of nowhere to basically rip your heart out, much like Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar-winning turn in Dreamgirls. Amy Adams was excellent as a severe, zealous wife in The Master, and Sally Field was quite good in Lincoln, but no performance this year was as indelible as Hathaway’s. I was crying every time she appeared on screen. The look on her face when Valjean tells her he’ll take care of her daughter? Her return at the end of the movie, radiating love and peace for an elderly Valjean? Forget about it.

Will Win — Anne Hathaway. Almost as much a lock as Day-Lewis; she’s pretty much swept every award she’s been up for until now, though that might mean that Field could sweep in and take the award. She has plenty of respect and admiration, and people love to root for the underdog.

BEST DIRECTOR
Should Win — Ang Lee. While I definitely admire the work all of the nominees did this year, I don’t think anyone’s had it harder than Ang Lee. The production of the Life of Pi had to have been a circus, and he was a dedicated, extraordinarily patient ringmaster. Dealing with the complexities of the metaphysical story, a cast of unknown actors, an incredible amount of CGI while making sure everything was not only understood but connected on an instinctive, emotional level is no small feat. It’s a minor miracle that Pi is as good as it is, and it’s all thanks to Lee.

Will Win — Steven Spielberg. This is another ambitious production, and there’s a lot of admiration for what Spielberg has done with Lincoln. I’m thinking they’ll split the prizes this year and give Lincoln the Best Director statue as a consolation prize for losing to Argo.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Should WinWreck-It Ralph. Why are we even having this conversation? It was everything you could want in a cartoon — sly, sweet, with a fan’s knowledge of the video game world created around the story. It’s so good, it’s hard to believe it didn’t come from Pixar.

Will WinWreck-It Ralph. Brave was good, but it didn’t have the heart, joy and je ne sais quoi of Ralph. It has a lot of things going for it — it’s from Pixar, there’s a lot to like about the heroine, the other three films aren’t quite as Oscar-worthy — but unless people just vote for the Pixar movie out of habit, it’s hard to imagine it winning.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Should Win — I have to say, I really have no idea in this category. I’ve only seen one of the nominees, and I think it’s the one that will win. Hopefully I can see two more by the weekend!

Will WinDjango Unchained. Tarantino’s latest film wasn’t nominated for very much, and the dialogue is his usual mix of snap, crackle and pop. (Whatever that means.) It might be too vulgar for the Academy voters, though, in which case it might go to Zero Dark Thirty instead.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Should WinBeasts of the Southern Wild. This is an indie darling that garnered a few nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director) but will more than likely go home empty-handed, which is a shame. But if Beasts of the Southern Wild takes home any trophy on Oscar night, it should be this one. The movie is a strange mix of mythic folk, near-future dystopia and downright fairy tale, and its initial inscrutability dissolves into a complex, breathing story with plenty to say. Ryan and I had a great time discussing it after we saw it, and Life of Pi was the only other movie we could have that kind of conversation about among this year’s nominees. I really admire David Magee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel, but in my dream world, this would win.

Will WinLincoln. Tony Kushner cobbled together letters, accounts of the time and passages from Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin to create a fascinating account of the passage of the 13th Amendment. It makes politics seem as messy and muddled back then as it was today, which is somewhat relieving if you ask me. Still, it’s great work that deserves to be recognized, and I think it’ll be one of the statues Lincoln takes home on Sunday.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how wrong I am on Sunday evening. In the meantime, have a good weekend folks!

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Movies, Politics, Pop Culture, Television

 

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