Tribes and Tribulation: Colonization of South America in THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017) and THE MISSION (1986)

 

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The Lost City of Z (James Grey, 2017)

 

Indigenous communities in Hollywood films have always had marginalized roles and appearances, especially in those films dealing with Western and imperialist historical topics. James Grey’s The Lost City of Z (pronounced “Zed”) however, might be the first I’ve seen which makes a conscientious effort to reverse this Hollywood treatment. To, in fact, make it a point to say native peoples are actively marginalized throughout imperialist histories, and it’s main protagonist, Colonel Percy Fawcett, as a beholder to their intellect and power.

The main obstacle to Fawcett (played by Charlie Hunnam) was not to convince England he had discovered a lost tribe, but that it was, in fact, a civilization, one replete with the advancements of cookware, art, weaponry, and buildings that constituted a people of intellect and scientific and engineering knowhow. In a boisterous and argumentative session before the Royal Geographic Society, he makes his case to the horror of many of the “intellectuals” who’s fear of a non-white race achieving civility and discipline shattered their world view.

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Fawcett’s adamant stance on the intelligence and advancement of native cultures is an important counter to our biased views of Western civilization. Despite a more politically correct polish on what used to be incredibly racist stereotypes of the civilized white towards the native barbarian, we still don’t acknowledge in textbooks or discussion of colonization how much more advanced Natives actually were in regards to their understanding of natural and environmental science and food cultivation than any settlers were.

Previous treatments of native cultures contained them as entities having to be “saved” by a Western hero (Dances with Wolves). It was a veil of digestibility for our sake and a continuation of the lies that native cultures never really had an “order” before the Conquistadors or Pilgrims came to settle and command. That there were no rules or governance and thus, the land was essentially for the taking and the people free to be “educated”.

In contrast to such restrictive Hollywood tropes, James Grey’s The Lost City of Z might be considered unique in its “progressive histrionics”. There are conversations regarding women’s roles in society and home, white and non-white race relations, the erasure of cultures, and the validity of scientific findings. The film has quite a clear argument in favor of progressive views of the world, even if its setting is in the old world where such thoughts were considered preposterous or worse, treasonous.

 

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The Mission (Roland Joffé, 1986)

 

Take these views into consideration with Roland Joffé’s The Mission, a critically acclaimed historical epic which uses a very traditional Hollywood construct of native people as a group looking to be conquered or brought to salvation… or both. Joffé’s film also creates a good vs evil dichotomy, wherein its progressive politics are poised as a fight between the peaceful salvation of the Jesuit order and the ruthless slavery-driven economy of imperialist Portugal. There is even a character, Rodrigo Mendoza (a miscast but adequate Robert DeNiro), who spent time on both sides of this fence; a former mercenary and slave trader who corrects his ways and finds God with the help of Father Gabriel (the impeccable Jeremy Irons).

Much like Fawcett’s character, Father Gabriel and Mendoza fight for the dignity and independence of the indigenous Amazonian tribe they befriend, the Guarani. Unlike Fawcett however, their attempts at protection of the tribe, i.e., “conversions” via their mission, is on its head a form of cultural erasure… the elimination of the Guarani’s spiritual and traditional beliefs in favor of the Holy Spirit.

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The Mission is much more politically volatile than The Lost City of Z and thus, much more exciting and entertaining, but also much more unforgiving. But what makes one a tale While Grey maintains his central characters in such a steady and unbending light for “good”, for the true understanding of native peoples in the fact of evil imperialism, Joffé’s story is more about the inevitable genocide of the native, caught between enslavement via the Monarchy or coerced abandonment of their century-old cultural beliefs.

The Oscars 2017! or, something like that

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Ugh, these Oscars… the Best Picture nominees (except for Moonlight) this year are boring. The individual acting and directing nominees (except for Moonlight’s cast and director) are uninteresting and tired. The show is just going to be a sling of overused jokes about a toupeed orangutan all of us are tired of thinking about . I frankly care less about who wins or loses this year (but Moonlight is great, it should win) more than any year in the past.

So here’s just ONE THING you should keep in the back of your troubled minds while you’re sitting on your couch watching this charade thinking about the 6th Mass Extinction that scientists keep mentioning and wondering when it will finally take all of humanity with it:

The Real BEST PICTURE Nominees are in the BEST DOCUMENTARY CATEGORY:

I just made 3 straight not-subtle references to Moonlight if you were paying attention, but even that movie is nothing compared to the merciless bitch-slap across the face the Best Documentary category has in store for you. These movies are challenging, frustrating, the “I want to throw my computer against the wall because what I just watched pissed me off to no end” sort of great realistic, unapologetic and volcanic documentation of LIFE.
I mentioned in my Best Films of 2016 list that O.J.: Made in America was the #1 movie of last year. That hasn’t changed, and I wrote enough about it here to not have to go into an explanation:

But look at the other 4.

The 13th is a film by Ana DuVernay in multiple parts on the epidemic of unlawful and dangerous incarceration of black people throughout American history. There is zero excuse for you not to watch it considering it is on Netflix right now and I know all of you send them $7 straight out of your paycheck every month. Stop wasting that money watching F.R.E.I.N.D.S. for the millionth fucking time and support the voice of a filmmaker in DuVernay who is doing important work.

I Am Not Your Negro is probably the best title for a movie since Leos Carax’s Pola X (the explanation for that film title is here). On the manuscripts of James Baldwin, the film runs through his thoughts on and furious anger over the civil rights violations of a nation coming to grips with its own horrifically racist past, present, and if nothing changes, future.

The Italian documentary winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Gianfranco Rossi’s Fucoammare (Fire at Sea), showcases the lives of immigrants from Northern Africa who sail to find solace in Europe. The film’s raw footage gives the depth, danger, and peril of the journey of many of these individuals who understand the risks of death and proceed at all costs.

The final film is the least political, but still important. Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated showcases the coming of age a young boy with autism, who escapes the isolation and discrimination from society and learns to cope with his disability through his love for Disney movies. Most of our childhoods were defined by the Disney Renaissance, but for some, it wasn’t just a matter of nostalgia. This doc is a great testament to how cinema can change a life.

Watch these movies. If you have watched ANYTHING from the year 2016, makes sure you watch these:

OJ: Made in America (on WatchESPN for free)

The 13th (on Netflix)

I Am Not Your Negro (on Netflix)

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) (on Netflix)

Life, Animated (on Amazon Prime)

O.J. Made in America

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OJ: Made in America positions itself as a media-on-media critique. It uses interviews, news broadcasts, movie scenes, commercials, sports clips and analysis, and political speeches and reactions to recreate the aura and mythology of its central character, O.J. Simpson. As a black kid from the projects turned football star turned American icon, he was the living, walking, and talking embodiment of the American Dream, and exhibit A for proof that capitalism worked. A man whose figure in the American pop culture diaspora was so magnanimous, it defied definition. As Jay-Z put it, “Not a businessman, but a business… man.” However, all of this was shattered through a court trial that ended up finding him innocent, but fallout that rendered him an outcast of American society. In this, Edelman paints an America comprised of two sides that were always at odds in the fight for O.J. Simpson. A white America who embraced his rise and turned un-apologetically to relish in his fall, and a black America who felt neglected by his apathy towards their social struggle yet embellished in the opportunity to use his trial as a means of social justice. As a documentary, a piece of visual media, it turns its lens in every direction and points it back at us in 2016, facing a similar racially fractured situation which all but intensified post a seminal verdict in the court that is the American presidential election. It points it back at its own storytelling form, the overexposure of an individual, a normalization of his dangerous behavior, a treatment of him as a victim of unwarranted harsh criticism rather than recognizing his actions as inviting and justifying it.

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The social and cultural shifts of American history through time shape and are shaped by its most powerful citizens. Race relations brewed through O.J.’s life, even if he tried his hardest to avoid them. We perceive race as a binary entity. You are either racist or you are not. However, like most ideologies or worldviews, it exists in a blended spectrum that makes it harder for us to judge, and dangerously, harder to detect or realize. Many instances in O.J. Made in America showcase blatant examples of racism. Use of the n-word, beating of black individuals by police, direct violence against blacks by whites. However, there is also deeply rooted systemic racism that the documentary taps into and it is revealed not only in the laws and policies of the nation, but in the everyday lives of people, perhaps unwittingly. As they say, the system isn’t broken, it’s meant to work this way and it ingrained itself in the American psyche to the point of second nature… subconscious reaction to visual signals. Mark Cuban mentioned in an interview several years ago that if he was out at night in the city and saw a black kid in a hoodie he would feel the need to go to the other side of the street(1). We don’t know where such a mental reaction originated from and that’s exactly the issue. Preconceived notions on race are omnipresent in American media as well. In OJ, majority of the violent news footage is consisted of black individuals in urban areas attacking and being “handled” by police officers. These biases exist in everyone and they exist to different degrees. They existed within the rich white circles O.J. Simpson surrounded himself with and then was discarded from once they couldn’t use his stature to their benefit anymore. They existed within Johnny Cochran and his team, who used race-baiting tactics to overcome hard evidence and let a murderer go free. They existed within Simpson himself, who claimed he “never saw race” yet, upon seeing a commotion outside his mansion following his chase down the highway remarked to a white police officer “what are all these n—— doing here?”

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The subject, OJ, of Ezra Edelman’s documentary is amended with a predicate: Made in America. Here lies the power of the story. Where the onus is placed on a culture, a nation, and a history that perpetuated the rise of such an individual, and tore itself apart amidst his demise. The idol worship culture, where the concept of a person being bigger than a person, exists for better or for worse. We elevated Bill Cosby as an all-time comedian. We elevated Tom Cruise as a charismatic screen-stealing superstar. We elevated Donald Trump as a money-savvy outsider who could plausibly lead the most powerful nation in the world for four straight years. Through interviews and news clippings Edelman shows us how our (now social) media-obsessed culture feeds into the mythos of ultimate success and power. We say that America is the place where winners go. You’ll never become as successful and as wealthy and as powerful anywhere else in the world as you can in America. Well, that sword comes with two edges. Capitalism is always coupled with materialism. Fame is always coupled with greed. Power is always coupled with corruption. Only in America could an O.J. Simpson be made. We all made him because we all fed into his myth and his lie. The greatness of O.J. Made in America is in its ability to connect the evolution of a nation with the trajectory of one man’s fame, power, and wealth and the American people’s investment in that story. Something to think about for the next four years.

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The Oscar (of) Race

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We didn’t get a White Christmas this year thanks to El Nino, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for the second year in a row, didn’t hesitate to bestow upon us a White Oscars. There have been hashtags (#OscarsSoWhite) and continuous discussion from all angles about this topic. I’ll try to touch on a series of prompts I have read and heard throughout this whole debacle (yes, these are real prompts that have been stated in the past week):

Who votes for the Oscars?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is an elite group of industry members, who are invited to join by current members. The membership is divided into groups based on craft. This means, that there is a Directors Division, an Acting Division, a Music Division, a Cinematography Division and etc. for all the different categories which are awarded Oscars. Each division votes within themselves for nominees and winners, and everyone votes for nominees and winners of Best Picture. There are currently more than 5,300 members in the Academy. Of those members, a whopping 94% are Caucasian, and 77% are male. This is incredibly lopsided to one particular demographic. To add to the problem, only 2% of the Academy is black.

What does this mean for Hollywood as a whole?

The reason that the Academy’s lack of diversity is a big problem in regards to Hollywood diversity is not because we have an overwhelming amount of Caucasian males voting for awards, but the fact that these statistical demographics reveal a sample of a whole population. The Academy’s racial skew, or incredible lack of diversity directly reflects the fact that Hollywood doesn’t deliver an equal amount of opportunity for minority individuals to be nominated and succeed within the industry. This works as a cyclical and almost inescapable barrier for current black actors and directors who want to get recognition in the Oscars. Why? Because you need to be prominent in order to even be considered for invite into the Academy. It’s viciously systemic.

Black/Minority individuals in Hollywood:

Can’t get invited as members of the Academy because they can’t get recognition in Hollywood because they can’t get voted for Oscar nominations because they can’t get invited as members of the Academy because etc….. get it?

But I thought Hollywood was LIBERAL?

The reason that Hollywood has gained the notoriety of being a very liberal entity is because its individual members are very outspoken on political, social, and economic issues that promote liberal positions. But this is only on an individualistic level, its on a personal statement level, where actors, directors, and other industry folk have opinions about things and because of their public stature, express them more freely and openly because they feel a moral obligation to.

The thing that people need to understand is that the individuals in Hollywood are not Hollywood. Hollywood is an industry. That means that it functions based on the same principles as any other industry: “what sells?”

From this standpoint, there is hardly any doubt that the business model of the Hollywood film industry is by and large fiscally conservative and purely capitalist. It’s the same as with politicians in Congress. While few may be hard-headed individuals willing to be wrecking balls that destroy everything for the sake of a personal set of beliefs, such as Ted Cruz, most politicians from both sides of the isle, will “play the game” behind the closed doors while publicly decrying the “establishment” in front of the camera (Marco Rubio).

Hollywood works the same way. When you’re in those focus groups and meeting rooms trying to make money off of films, there are many personal beliefs and decisions “for the moral good” that you need to set aside to make the business model work. If you’re casting for an action movie, you’re going to choose an actor who has cross-cultural appeal, and in most cases, that guy is white. If you’re making a romantic comedy, you’re going to cast a couple who most Americans can identify with, and in the Hollywood boardroom, the conclusion will arrive at a white couple. If you’re casting a movie about coming-of-age, you’re going to pick a kid who’s experience growing up most resembles that of the average American kid in the suburbs… again, a white kid. This isn’t racism, this is a business model. This isn’t because Hollywood execs hate black people or minorities, its because for their money’s-worth, they have to take the best bet, and the best bet in their eyes, will be the average white person on the silver screen.

But it’s certainly a problem, because it shows that executives and American audiences still haven’t warmed up much to the fact that an action hero, or a leading actress in a drama, or a cute couple in a romantic comedy, or a young kid growing up, can come in all colors and shapes. This needs to change, and the way it can change is through trial error. Keep in mind, it used to be inconceivable for a black man to have a universal appeal and liking in a big Hollywood film. Movies like Shaft and others in the “blaxploitation” era were targeted at the African-American demographic because that was the only demographic which seemed interested in black-actor-centric action films, and other films starring great black actors like Sidney Poitier (In the Heat of the Night) and Harry Belafonte (Carmen Jones) were generally exclusive artistic endeavors and critical darlings with limited commercial appeal. It wasn’t until Denzel Washington and Will Smith that for the first time, we got minority leading men who appealed to white individuals as much as they did to black individuals. You could put Will Smith in any action movie and it would sell. Denzel was the guy every guy wanted to be. This was a cultural breakthrough, but it also highlighted that conservative business model… Hollywood will reward and cast the black individuals who appeal to white audiences. Again, we have to ask, is this a case of subtle racism, or is it just the laws of economics? If it is the laws of economics, the trend of having diversity in big budget franchise films (the two lead characters in The Force Awakens are not white-males) should be pushed forward, for the sake trying to shift these laws to favor diversity.

But…how can black people in America demand racial diversity when they only make up 12% of the U.S. population?

This is a problematic question. First of all, it assumes that just because a section of a population is in the minority, it has no right to express itself on the same pedestal as every other sect of the population. In fact, this type of questioning is exactly why slavery and Jim Crowe and segregation and racism existed in the United States for as long as it did. Because there was a preconceived notion that “democracy” is a be-all-end-all game of majority wins. This may play out without much consequence when kids are voting on what sport they want to play during gym class, but in the real world, where actions reach far and wide and human beings become marginalized, “majority wins” is one of the worst rules in human history (I don’t think I need to give the litany of examples as to why, it should be fairly obvious).

Since the advent of the Academy Awards back in 1927/1928, there have been a grand total of 12 black acting Oscar-winners… in 88 years. That means that 88 years of Oscar-nominees, 4 acting nominees each year, that’s a grand total of 352 winners of an acting Oscar. 12 black acting Oscar-winners makes up only 3% of that. In addition, there have been only 3 black directors ever nominated for Best Director: John Singleton (Boyz N Tha Hood), Lee Daniels (Precious) and Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave), with none of them winning. Again, that’s in 88 freaking years of the Academy’s existence. So, black directors make up 0.7% of the Academy’s directing nominees and 0% of their winners. That is astounding.

So even if you wanted to use the 12% excuse for lack of representation, the numbers clearly show that even 12% is an exponentially higher percentage than black representation within the Academy and their awardees.

Finally, we can point to percentages of population when it comes to minority groups in certain areas, but that argument consistently breaks down when we get into the why of the matter in regards to their lack of representation, lack of opportunity, and lack of populace. When people point out the incredibly small percentage of Native Americans in the United States, approximately 2% of the current population, we already know why this is. They had been marginalized, discriminated against, and in the darkest of times, murdered off in genocidal campaigns for the sake of “manifest destiny”. It’s the same reason why Judaism is the least followed major religion in the world (yes, behind even Buddhism). But when it comes to black individuals in America, we tend to brush aside the fact that their history in this country for the most part, was a living hell of consistent beat-downs with absolutely no hope of upward movement. People talk about racism and segregation like they are century old grievances that are now mere hieroglyphs on the walls of ancient tombs, when in reality, if you’re in your 20’s, then segregation still existed in the United States when your parents were kids and even when they were in college. Remember, just because the Civil Rights Act abolished segregation via court mandate in 1964, doesn’t mean our good friends in the South didn’t claim “states rights” and continue to discriminating against people of color anyway.

But I digress… the fact of the matter is that for many people, the completely minuscule proportion to which black individuals in Hollywood have been nominated or recognized for honors in comparison to white individuals is not representative of black individuals presence in the industry. In other words, the percentage or proportion of black individuals in industry is not done justice by their statistical numbers when its comes to being honored with at least a nomination for an Oscar. This is undeniable.

But I don’t hear other minorities like Latinos, Asians, Middle-Easterners, Native Americans complaining. Why is it always black people?

One of the biggest pieces of information that people always leave out in these minority comparisons is that the ancestors of black individuals did not come to the United States (for the most part) by choice. They came specifically via capture and imprisonment in one of the most vicious and morally bankrupt events in the establishment of America: the slave trade. Yet, the presence of black individuals in America was woven into the fiber of the country, with every aspect of film and music in the United States today having been in some way influenced via the African-American culture. While blacks were treated as non-human property for much of their existence when first being brought here, they still managed to make a marked effect on the way America operated. Their songs, their culture, their ideas paved a way for generations of talented artists, writers, philosophers, and eventually Presidential candidates to stake a claim that the black community in the United States had as much of a history, as much of an impact, and as significant of a moral and positive effect on the shaping of what we know America as today as did white folks. For this reason, their “minority” stature, for all regards and purposes, is but a statistical misnomer. African Americans compared to every other statistical minority in America, are very much an indispensable fabric of the United States as the European settlers*. For this reason, which really has 200 years of American history on its side, the comparison of blacks in the U.S. in equal footing with other minorities is a false equivalency. I say this without hesitation as a member of an “other minority” (Indian).

*(I do want to note on Native Americans because whenever we talk about America, we do it at the detriment of the race of individuals who were unjustly stripped of all possessions and claim to a land that was essentially theirs to begin with… please read up on this here)

So what about the BET Awards, or the Black Reel Awards, or the NAACP Awards? Don’t they promote segregation against whites?

No. The fact of the matter is that the BET, Black Reel, and NAACP awards were not created as an exclusionary award system against whites, rather they were created as award systems to congratulate and recognize accomplishments within a particular community in the United States. It isn’t different from the Movieguide Awards, an award show and academy which promotes and celebrates the accomplishments of Christian filmmakers and Christianity-inspired films.

Now, religion and race is of course, two different things because religion is a personal choice while race is not, but even then, the fact remains that these awards which are centric to a particular sect or group of people are promotional, not exclusionary. There have been white people who have won and been nominated for BET Awards:

  • The film The Help, about black maids in the south dealing with oppression, won Best Movie at the awards ceremony… the white director, Tate Taylor received the award.
  • Eminem has been nominated for 5 BET Awards. Justin Timberlake has been nominated for 8 BET Awards.
  • The NAACP has awarded, for movie achievements, Bryce Dallas Howard, Angelina Jolie, Justin Timberlake, and Emma Stone.

Even if the Oscars had racial diversity to the point where black actors did not feel left out or discriminated against, the BET and NAACP Awards would still exist, because they are awards which people in the black community use as a recognition of the best achievements within their culture. Are we to say that the Jewish Book Council shouldn’t exist because there is already a good deal of Jewish writers in America, some of whom have won Nobel and Pulitzer prizes? Should we say that the ALMA Awards for Latino achievements in film and arts promote segregation against non-Latino individuals in film rather than promote the achievements of individuals in or associated with projects about Latino culture?

For those questioning why we can’t have an award ceremony just for white people in the film industry, that’s like asking why we have International Women’s Day but no International Men’s Day.

What do you personally think about the Oscar situation?

I think the best performances and the best efforts in film for that year should be nominated. That is a wholly subjective take on the issue, but the biggest problem I have always had with the Oscars is that the ceremony is guided more by politics and campaigns than it is by merit. The same way people get fed up with the Presidential election process, I get fed up with a lot of the decisions that the Oscars make in terms of who gets nominated and who doesn’t. Maybe this is why there is such a dearth of African-Americans and other minorities nominated for the Oscars… because while their performances and achievements may be Oscar-worthy in all regards, they don’t get noticed because their presence isn’t as strong. The last time I have seen a clear and undeniable example of an actor/actress winning despite zero campaigning was Mo’Nique who won Best Supporting Actress for Precious. Maybe that’s a case that has Oscar campaigning been outlawed and artistic merit been the focal point, black performers would get more recognition as it is.

That’s the crux of my argument against Charlotte Rampling’s statements as well. She bases this notion of racism against whites in this debate on the fact that all the white performers who were nominated undeniably “deserved” their nominations. Well, I call bullshit mainly because there has never been a single year when all of the Oscar nominees, or even any of the Oscar nominees, got there on merit alone. Never. Ever. I will debate anyone on that, and I will win that debate.

You can’t tell me that, especially in a year when we are blindly allowing Rooney Mara (Carol) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) to be considered “SUPPORTING ACTRESSES” for roles that anyone with even one fucking eye and half a fucking brain knows were LEADING ROLES, that all of these acting nominees were selected because they were clearly the creme of the crop in performances. These nominations were not merit nominations, they were campaign strategic nominations. The Best Leading Actress category is so loaded this year with incredible performances that pitting Rooney Mara against her co-lead Cate Blanchette clearly made the producers of Carol fear that they could lose out on both nominations via vote-splitting. It’s no different from the Republican Party doing Trumps bidding for now in fear that if they scorn him, he will run third party, thus vote-splitting and allowing the Democratic nominee to run away with a victory. It’s all political, it’s all war-gaming. Don’t tell me, Charlotte Rampling, about racism against whites, when the Oscars have been a campaign war devoid of much recognition towards real artistic merit for as long as they have existed, which in direct effect has effected more black individuals in Hollywood than anyone else (need I remind that Spike Lee has never been nominated for Best Director, yet was given a Lifetime Achievement Award)? The fact that Charlotte Rampling even got nominated this year was an act of affirmative action on behest of the Academy because 45 Years was hardly on any American radar outside of some minority critical spheres… we can say, perhaps that, a Brit getting nominated for a British independent film is a minority occurrence in itself for the Oscars. Maybe that’s a case of imperialistic classism against Charlize Theron, who’s performance in the American film Mad Max: Fury Road, didn’t make the cut.

But all jabbing aside, this debate on #OscarsSoWhite is a case of social inequality more than it is a case of what connotes an Oscar-worthy performance… at least I hope so. I will say to the black individuals in Hollywood, I don’t agree with nominating black actors for performances that don’t deserve a nomination… I don’t want to see someone getting a nomination because they are a minority, and I think that such an occurrence does more harm to the cause of black and other minority actors than it does any good. Wouldn’t you want recognition because what you did truly deserved it? I ask this even to the white nominees… are you telling me that even excluding a Harvey Weinstein promotional campaign you’d still get nominated (hmm, Rooney Mara? Supporting actress?).

But I do see the #OscarSoWhite argument’s point in the context that Oscar acting nominations have hardly ever been purely about artistic merit to begin with… and in regards to the greater picture of diversity in casting and opportunity in Hollywood. Let’s not forget, merit or no, an Oscar nomination goes very far in launching careers: I always ask myself, would Jennifer Lawrence even be a thing if she hadn’t gotten that nomination for Winter’s Bone? She got her opportunity, and she seized it and hit a grand-slam with it. Yet, Lupita Nyong’o is still waiting post her Oscar-winning triumph in 12 Years a Slave, and the two castings she did get (Star Wars The Force Awakens, and The Jungle Book), hide her in a dark room, doing voice-overs for CGI characters. Just something to think about.

Is there hope for change?

Of course. The Oscars have changed their strategies when faced with major backlash several times before. While the previous two most notable occurrances were very much movie-centric,

In 1994, the Academy’s failure to nominate two of the most critically acclaimed and celebrated documentaries in American history, Steve James’ Hoop Dreams and Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb for the Best Documentary Oscar, the backlash forced the Academy to revamp its nomination process and criteria for future years.

In 2008, while getting 8 total Oscar nominations, Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight was snubbed for Best Picture in favor of Stephen Daldry’s dry Holocaust romance-drama The Reader, creating a negative outlook of the Oscars as an “old people’s ceremony” with no outreach to younger audiences and millennial film fans. The Oscar ceremony’s dead-in-the-water viewership ratings being the hammer with the biggest force, the Academy decided to expand the Best Picture nominations to 10 nominees, allowing more young-viewer-appreciated films like Avatar, District 9, Inglorious Basterds, Inception, Toy Story 3, Up, Life of Pi, and this year, The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road to get significant representation for the biggest prizes.

So clearly, the Oscars, when push comes to shove, will change, and just today, the Academy has already kicked off the revamping process (click for info) to bring in more women, more minorities, and younger fresher film industry members into the Academy’s voting block while deactivating older members who have been inactive in the industry for some time.

Let’s see how it goes, and what effect it has. Stay tuned. The 88th Academy Awards are on February 28th , 2016 and hosted by comedian Chris Rock. My Oscar picks are forthcoming in the next few weeks.

 

2015 Capsule Reviews Part V

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Dope (Rick Famuyiwa, 2015)

Dope (Rick Famuyiwa, 2015)

The antithesis of the uninteresting and chokingly sugar-loaded Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Famuyiwa’s Sundance favorite evoked the adjectives of “stylish” and “well-written” on the surface, but underneath, the density of this film lies in its disturbing depiction of being a non-black, black teen. What Shameik Moore’s Malcolm goes through in the film is what in real life would be a no-win situation. The film is fictional and it’s a hopeful account, so Malcolm comes through in the end, but his letter to Harvard University really dispells what a rock-and-hard place it is for black teens who actually thoroughly seek the opportunity to succeed and escape from poverty via their academics. We have developed this notion of urban black youth as alienated and suffering due to poor schools and neglect from their fathers and set up to a “professional athlete or bust” highway, but even those who overcome all of that to still shine academically are still searching for their voice to be heard… and this is not simply through the notion of a percieved racial bias towards black from white folks, but as Fumiwuya aslo nugdingly suggests, it is also the alienation via black “counterculture” that proves a detriment to these children, because getting good grades, liking rock music, and being a virgin doesn’t really fit the stereotype of a kid growing up in the projects. It’s everyone’s fault, and Dope is really about that, but to keep us watching and refrain from being a finger-pointing angry lecture, it also wraps and laces itself intelligently and slyly in a giddy, twisty, and downright cool-with-a-capital-C polish.

 

Everest (Baltazar Kormakur, 2015)

Everest is the type of summer popcorn flick that I like. Well, this movie released in September, but it should’ve really released during the summer to help drown out the horde of sequel-prequel-remakequel crap with something that manages to pack a punch in both thrills and storytelling, but also in its emotion. The Everest disaster was truly tragic, and that’s probably what stopped this film from hitting the real zeitgeist… it’s a depressing story, but that shouldn’t deter anyone from enjoying and taking in the arduous journey up the tallest mountain on Earth. Kormakur doesn’t waste his time with much overt melodrama here, instead, he quietly mounts a sizeable backstory on each of the characters through their conversations with each other and a sense of believable bonding from a team that could very well die together. It works well, because we root for the whole team’s journey up the mountain and as the disaster of the storm rains down on them and starts to pick them off one by one, we root for them individually and are reminded the unique circumstances and goals they are fighting for. Everest is a non-franchise Hollywood thriller with a soul, and our summers could use a bit more of that.

 

Trumbo (Jay Roach, 2015)

Trumbo is Hollywood, and by that I mean that this film lays out all the tricks and turns you’d expect in a Hollywood drama. It’s formula like that which comes in a baby bottle and its fed to us piece by piece with not a single moment left to our imagination. I can’t say I expected much from Jay Roach in his first forray into Oscar-bait drama, but I can say that while the narrative is completely bereft of particularly memorable moments, at least for cinema-geeks the movie is laden with plenty of little gifts here and there… a sequence with King Bros. motion pictures (with an incredibly hilarious John Goodman as producer Frank King), a lunch meeting sequence where Trumbo’s anonymous script is revealed to be the classic Roman Holiday, and John Wayne being John Wayne.

 

Partisan (Ariel Kliemann, 2015)

This is the second film, after Chappie, this year which I liked a lot more than everyone else. So let me use this to dispell one common argument against this film: its ambiguity. I will warn, Kleimann doesn’t bother to explain anything. Why are these children being raised in a renegade counter-society by a ruthless patriarch who impregnates multiple women? Why are they sent out to murder people on a whim? The ambiguity is really what drew me into this film. Many times, the questions we ask for explanation of such blatant frustration and horrific violence and power are anyways unexplained. What we do unquestionably witness in the film is a rebellion, and like all rebellions it is formed via a sense of compassion of one upstart individual who seeks to find retribution for another individuals mistreatment. Partisan acts as the microcosm example of how leaders are overthrown, when they step outside their boundaries, when their smoke and mirror lies are ultimately taken away to reveal a most horrific truth.

 

Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, 2015)

Before I get labelled an “uncultured swine”, I’d like to say that no… it’s not that Kurzel chose to use actual Shakesperean “speak” as all of the dialogue in the film that turned me off. Instead, what makes this film a completely forgettable Shakespear adaptation is that it offers absolutely nothing original from which to evoke new emotion on the bard’s work. Trailers are misleading in this case… it suggested from the way Kurzel marketed this film that he has instilled a thumping, legendary tag onto Macbeth, one which transformed the film close to a subtly artistic yet swashbuckling rendition like Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol. Rather, this movie takes Shakespear from Sparknotes and plasters it on screen with tons of voice-over and a visual canvas that mixes both the serene psychosis of Marketa Lazarova but draped with the self-indulgent slow-motion dicking-around of Zach Snyder.