HuffPo makes the Oscars about identity politics

February 27, 2017 • 11:00 am

Unless you were in Alma-Ata last night, you’ll know about the mixup whereby the Best Picture award was mistakenly given to “La La Land” instead of “Moonlight,” a horribly embarrassing mistake that was rectified immediately, and onstage. I didn’t see it, and I haven’t seen either movie, but I noticed that HuffPo is already claiming this as a victory for “inclusivity,” as if the Oscar voters were deciding on politics rather than quality. Click on the screenshot to go to the article (if you must):

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-9-34-46-am

The HuffPo social justice writer editor said this:

Barry Jenkins’ drama about a black latchkey kid grappling with his sexuality in the Miami projects beat expected front-runner “La La Land” for Best Picture on Sunday. That means the Academy picked a small independent movie that tackles homophobia, class structures and patriarchal norms over a musical-romance fantasy about voters’ favorite topic: Hollywood. This is a leap forward for big-screen storytelling that humanizes marginalized voices.

. . . Because “La La Land” romanticizes a dreamy Hollywood that is unfamiliar to most Americans, some critics and commentators felt that it was less worthy than the vital social stories told in “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures.” With popular culture inching toward better representation for minorities and women, and Donald Trump’s administration inching away from it, many saw a “Moonlight” or “Hidden Figures” victory as a referendum against the current political regime.

This actually insults the movie, claiming that it won for its topic rather than its quality. It is the racism of low expectations.

Is it not possible that “Moonlight” was simply a better movie than “La La Land”? (That, at least, is what the critics on Rotten Tomatoes decided by a small margin.) If you’ve seen both movies, weigh in.

Perhaps if Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive, he’d say to Jacobs:

“I have a dream that moviegoers will live in a nation where films will not be judged by the color of their actors, but by the content of their stories.” 
(And by this of course, I’m not saying that there’s no discrimination in Hollywood!)

69 thoughts on “HuffPo makes the Oscars about identity politics

  1. Anything they can do to insert the word “Trump” into an article, no matter how utterly unrelated.

    They could post a video of puppies playing in a field and the byline would read: “Aren’t these the most adorable puppies you’ve ever seen? Trump wouldn’t care, he doesn’t own a dog.”

  2. I never watch the Oscars. Asking ~6000 industry insiders to rank the products of their industry provides me with about as much useful insight as asking Congress to tell us all how they are doing.

    1. Well, since it’s basically a forced ranking choice it’s not entirely useless. Asking Congresscritters to name the top 5 most effective Congresscritters might give you insight into four reasonably effective ones. 🙂

  3. It’s a shame HuffPo does this crap, since Moonlight was absolutely deserving of this recognition. I saw every nominee this year aside from Hacksaw Ridge, and though I’m fond of several, Moonlight was the best of the bunch.

    The second best, IMO, which I saw the night before last, was the winner for best foreign-language film, The Salesman, a wonderful Iranian film brimming with humanity.

  4. This article by PuffHo is incredibly insulting to Moonlight. I have only seen clips of both movies, but certainly found Moonlight much more appealing. I have no desire whatsoever to see La La Land.

    There was apparently a huge expansion in who got to vote for the winners this year. Hundreds of new judges from all over the world were added. They don’t have the same connection to Hollywood, so I suspect they’re less biased.

    I don’t watch the awards, and I only saw the clean up on the news. I wondered if the person making the announcement made an assumption about the winner because he/she didn’t want to wear their glasses due to vanity.

    1. Actually they gave Warren Beatty the wrong envelope. He then passed it on to the other person who pronounced the wrong winner. I’m sure someone from Price-Waterhouse will be duly flogged.

      I’m sure that Hollywood was attempting to make up for embarrassing lost ground the last few years but awarding Moonlight with best picture, probably had nothing to do with it. The many non-white acting parts have to take place first, then the awards will follow.

      1. This is less clear than it seems. There is a photo of Beatty showing a card. It says Moonlight. It ain’t the wrong card. (So, when was this photo taken? I do not know.) It’s easy to blame the faceless functionaries of PWC, and probably that is what happened, but there is at least some chance this was deliberate.

          1. Watch Beatty. The envelope said best actress as did the card. The card had the previous winner on it. Beatty looks at things and looks for another card in the envelope. He seems to know its wrong. Then Dunaway, with whom he was reportedly squabbling about who would announce it, makes a crack. Is it impossible he showed her the card, knowing it was wrong, and that she might mess up?

            As to Vaal, a conspiracy theory requires a conspiracy, which is two or more.

        1. Craw…we like to see ourselves as rational here and not ones to leap to conspiracy theories.

          https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/02/27/heres-how-that-historic-oscars-mix-up-happened/#ff0f2db4b4ec

          The idea it may have been deliberate could not be more absurd. The Oscars have been smarting from claims of racism and trying to recover from it. Nothing could be better for helping the reputation of the Oscars than a Best Picture win by black film-makers. The idea that the would therefore undercut this moment of triumph – when a “black movie” actually wins best picture – by deliberately handing the trophies to an all white movie/production staff instead – making the Oscars look both incompetent and in the direction of the bias it’s trying to shed – is just insane.

          This inclination to conspiracy thinking sure seems to be a software bug in us humans.

          1. Yes, well explained.

            Possibly exacerbated by the fact that the Oscars cards have the category e.g. ‘Best Picture’ printed on them in extremely small print.

            So the ‘wrong’ card that Beatty and Dunaway were given said “La la Land Emma Stone” in big print and ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ in very small print at the bottom.

            Can’t blame them for the confusion.

            The correct card which Warren Beatty was holding up (the photo Craw referred to) was given to him later on.

            Try this:
            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2017/02/27/most-shocking-moment-in-oscars-history-presenters-call-the-wrong-winner-for-best-picture

            cr

            1. Yes, I understood that’s what partly what happened, and too bad Warren was confused and couldn’t think fast enough on his feet or vocalize concerns quickly enough, perhaps a sign of his advanced years or something.

              I think both presenters from now on will have to carefully read and verify the category printed on the envelope, and then make sure they are reading the right card inside the envelope. Whoever handed Warren the wrong envelope will probably lose his/her job.

              Here’s some additional info which might have contributed to the cock-up. There are actually *two sets* of identical cards, one on either side of the stage, and these are handed out in order. Something went wrong, and perhaps the ‘spare’ Emma Stone card wasn’t put away after that award was presented, or perhaps both of those cards ended up on the same side of the stage.

              1. Yes. It was all a dumb cock-up and unfortunately Beattie didn’t have the gumption to say “hey, we’ve been given the wrong card”.

              2. Thing is, it wasn’t *obviously* wrong or absurd. That is to say, La La Land was one of the leading contenders for Best Picture, so – so far as he could tell at that moment – he might well have been handed the right show, wrong category.

                It’s very easy to criticise with hindsight, but faced with a million people waiting for you to make the announcement, would you bring everything to a grinding halt or would you adopt ‘the show must go on’ and wing it?

                cr

      2. Thanks for the clarification.

        And I agree.

        I have no idea whether the fact most award winners are white is racist or not. I simply assumed at the time they were the best. I still see a fair bit of racism in the US, but Hollywood always seems much better than average as well. I assumed the recent all white winners were a combination of a statistical blip and there being less actors of colour.

        However, with the recent success of a presidential candidate openly supported by white supremacists and an increase in open racism, I suppose people are more sensitized to it too. It would be easy to assume it exists even if it didn’t.

        1. I think my take is – Awards can only come to minorities when they get the chance to participate. To direct, to act, to do all the other jobs in the business. That is what makes equality a reality. Not some award and who got what.

          The idea that there was some other story that went on because someone saw a picture of Beatty with the card that said Moonlight. Please, whoever you are, get real. What I said above was straight and from the news. Not whatever fake news you are inventing.

          1. My “thanks for the clarification” was to you Randy, and my other comments were in response to you as well.

            I agree the parts, jobs etc have to be there before people can start to win awards for them.

        2. The year that the “OscarsSoWhite” hashtag started and the media began ragging on it, The Economist printed an article showing that black actors received about double the number of Oscar noms/wins to their proportion of the population since I believe 1995. So, if anything, it was a made-up controversy (at least as far as the Oscars goes).

    2. … the person making the announcement … didn’t want to wear their glasses due to vanity.”

      I suppose that’s possible, given that the person is one of the candidates long-suspected to have been the inspiration for “You’re So Vain.” 🙂

      Before the Academy’s recent expansion, the average Academy member was typified by Tracey Ullman’s character Ruby Romaine. No surprise that award winners weren’t marked by their diversity.

        1. That’s a “problem” how?

          Warren Beatty was long-rumored to have been the song’s inspiration — i.e., the person to whom the song is addressed.

  5. Moonlight was by far the better picture, IMNSHO. The acting was superb and the writing was stunning. The characters were terribly believable and well developed. None were cliches or one dimensional. La La Land was puffery, but I’m not terribly fond of its genre of movies. My step-daughter thought La La was the best movie she’s ever seen. I also thought many of the other movies were excellent: Hidden Figures, Arrival, Manchester by the sea, Fences and Lion were also great movies. It was a tough year to make a choice and I’m not sure why La La Land was such a contender.

    1. I so desperately wanted Arrival to win. I love love love that film. And to see a pure sci-fi film get Best Picture would be bliss for a fan like me.

      I knew it wouldn’t happen, though.

  6. CNN reports there was another mistake, too: the In Memoriam segment showed a live person.

    Specifically, Costume Designer Janet Patterson died (and correctly got a memoriam mention), but the screen shot of her was actually a picture of her currently living friend, Jan Chapman.

  7. Given that Hollywood has made a lot of poor quality movies (due to their lack of subtlety) about the issue of race, I cannot join with the HuffPo on this one.
    The situation has improved since the days of way-too-obvious Sidney Poitier movies (partly because there are more film directors and writers from minorities now), but isn’t perfect.

    2004’s “Crash” came in for a lot of heat on this one.

    The best-race-related movie I’ve seen in recent years is the much neglected little-seen “Far From Heaven” (a remake of an earlier 1950s movie about an upper-crust woman in love with her hired gardener who is white in the first version.)

    I haven’t seen it all the way through, but one of the least impressive movies I’ve seen about race is “Mississippi Burning”- heavily Hollywoodized.

      1. I actually thought they did a great job with that film. I thought it was much more nuanced than showing the FBI as the heroes, and the film just happened to be told from the perspective of two FBI agents.

        It showed how the old guard (as represented by Gene Hackman) wasn’t too into this whole civil rights thing, but he still did his job. Young, new agents like Willem Defoe’s character were more likely to actually give a shit about things, but he was still just there to do a job.

        But, ultimately, the film was about what was happening to the black people in a specific town in Mississippi, the true story of the kids who went down there to register black people to vote, the entrenched racism of the institutions (like the local police) in southern communities, and how violence could explode against black communities at any time back then. The perspective of the film just happened to be from two very different FBI agents, who also represented the racial stratification of the time, but also the very slowly changing attitudes of the federal institutions at the time. It’s a brilliant film.

        1. The director, Alan Parker, has made several excellent films, including Midnight Express, The Commitments, and (my personal favorite of his) Angel Heart.

          1. Never seen The Commitments, but I absolutely love the other two. One is just brutal (we both know which one), and the other is fascinating and contains one of my favorite De Niro performances of all time. RDN is so subtly malevolent in his presence, and Mickey Rourke was a perfect choice at that time for a downtrodden gumshoe.

        2. It’s a wonderful story. But it’s a crummy film that distorted, cheapened, and exploited the story. Some of the errors and absurdities have been noted, but there were others.

    1. Far From Heaven was made in the style of certain Douglas Sirk-directed films from the 1950s, but it wasn’t an actual remake of a specific film. I agree with you about its quality.

  8. Recent pictures with black actresses and actors don’t exist, and there were never black Oscar winners, ever. The same terrible situation in video games and with women, who are not represented at all, or only naked to be objectified by white males.

    But thanks to Huffington Post and the Woke Elite in general, the Good People, our consciousness, we finally see improvements. They finally do something! Not only abolished they slavery last month, through their heroic blogging, they also made it happen that women can finally vote. Their #Resistance will always be remembered.

    Some reactionaries will claim this is pure fantasy, that there were plenty of black Oscar winners, including nominations and winners for films with a strong People of Colour cast, and that it’s just Regressive hyperbole in the interest to play themselves up as morally superiors — but reactionaries also cling to the delusion that Nelson Mandela didn’t die in prison, or believe in Berenstein bears. Wake up, and #resist.

    I can’t even.

  9. Are there objections to having a bit of affirmative action regarding awarding of the Oscars? I am on the fence on that one, but was wondering what other people think.

    1. The Oscars (like other awards) should be about talent. Quotas have no place in that equation. I would imagine that people would want to win on the merit of their work, not the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or other innate factors.

    2. I haven’t seen Moonlight. The only best picture nominees I’ve seen so far are Arrival and Hidden Figures. I liked both a lot and wouldn’t want to have to pick one over the other.

      Arrival is one of the best science fiction movies yet I think, because it scores high on everything from effects, cinematography, script, story and acting. That’s a rare thing for a science fiction movie.

      Hidden Figures was an emotional roller coaster for me. It made me very angry, made me laugh, made me cry. I really like this movie. Though inevitably dramatized it seems to be pretty accurate as far as I can tell by reading about the real people the movie is about.

      Even though I am a big science fiction fan from way back and am therefore very excited by the rare well rounded science fiction movie like Arrival, of the two I’ve seen I’d give the win to Hidden Figures because not only is it also very good in nearly all respects but it is also closely based on a real and very important true story. Something that was very interesting to me is that both my kids, even my son, actively wanted to go see the movie and really liked it. Though it was an eye opener for them. The difference between knowing something intellectually and then seeing it for real.

      I am not sure about the affirmative action question. I would be more favorable to affirmative action measures earlier in the process that gave groups that have not had equal access to movie making a better chance to do so. I think affirmative action measures at the award level could be more likely to misfire and may be at risk of showing a lack of due respect for the dignity of the very groups the measures are intended to help. There are plenty of outstanding performances by less advantaged minorities, in my opinion, that it would, by contrast, be a bit insulting to give an award to a less advantaged minority in a situation in which their performance doesn’t really warrant it.

    3. According to
      this old article
      put out after last year’s awards, the voting pool for the Oscar awards was (at that time) 94% white, 74% male, and averaged 63 years of age. Given those demographics, the results are not surprising.

      I find it hard to think that that breakdown is representative of Hollywood film industry professionals. So I’d say that the first order of business would be to consider making “the Academy” more representative of actual Hollywood subject matter experts. I’m not calling for the Oscars to be made a carbon copy of the People’s Choice awards or anything like that – I think it’s very reasonable that the Oscars be judged by “movie industry experts.” But I think that group is probably misrepresented by the current Academy membership.

      1. I wanted to get a discussion on this, and wow, it happened! I think your answer helps me sort out what is wrong and how to fix it: Change the demographics of the voting pool, and the contention over whether this process is biased might disappear.

    4. I know if i was given any award and there was any question at all over whether I actually deserved it or whether it was just time someone like me won, I’d feel like that award was entirely valueless.

      Most of us recognise that Citizen Kane should have swept the board in 1941 but that it lost out for political reasons.

      Who the hell cares that How Green Was My Valley? actually won when modern critics almost universally think it should have been Kane?

  10. Slightly off-topic, but the Razzies were also given out this weekend. Dinesh D’Souza swept four of the awards with his Hilary’s America.

    Official site here.

    Simpler text list of the winners here.

  11. Bret Easton Ellis raised an important question this time last year.

    What would benefit diversity more, a token award for a Hollywood movie about gay black Americans, or a prominent black Hollywood couple previously organised a boycott being open about their own sexuality?

  12. This year’s Oscars is definitely an Affirmative Action Academy Awards show. Moonlight is a politically motivated choice. As Honest Trailers satirically points out, it checks all the boxes for what a liberal Hollywood-type would vote for.

    Don’t let the 94% white, 74% male voter statistic fool you. That’s just identity politics of regressive leftism. It paints white male Oscar voters (I am Asian) as incapable to judging entries on its merits, and allows their white-ness and testosterone to control their rational faculties. Please, treat everyone as individuals, not as identities that you pigeonhole into groups.

    Is it a better movie? Yes, if you want your film to be heavy-handed in preachy liberalism. It, plus the general anger over the election, pushed the liberal Oscar voters to pick the Fuck-the-Alt-Right-Movie. Ten years from now, it will just be another Crash: a best picture winner that, once the social context has lost its recency, didn’t deserve it.

    1. Or maybe it’ll be the next Boys Don’t Cry – a film lauded by liberals on its initial release but later fall afoul of changing identity political orthodoxy so that the group the movie initially celebrated now demand the director be deplatformed as a hateful transphobic bitch.

    2. …That’s just identity politics of regressive leftism…

      …It, plus the general anger over the election, pushed the liberal Oscar voters to pick the Fuck-the-Alt-Right-Movie.

      Ah, I got it. We stupid liberals are pigeonholing people inappropriately! We should consider them as individuals regardless of what race, gender, identity etc. they have! And the real reason you individualism-toting conservatives know they voted for this movie is they’re all just a bunch of Trump-hating liberals.

      1. I didn’t say liberals are stupid. I self-identify as liberal, though moderate. The target of my ire are the regressive leftists who do use identity politics to pigeonhole people. Have you not been reading Jerry Coyne’s blog? He has been raging about this for months now.

        It’s funny that you thought I was a conservative. Maybe because I don’t sound like readers of PuffHo?

  13. It’s also Rio Carnival time — sensuality, cultural appropriation, irony, politically incorrect, excess. Not a country for snowflakes. If curious, google “globoplay” and click “carnaval” for the videos or “Globo-Play” for live coverage.

  14. I think La La Land was easily the better film, but both have their virtues – and they’re very different virtues. You don’t need to postulate political favouritism to explain its victory.

  15. I did not see either film. My husband took our daughter to see Hidden Figures. Her classmates all saw the film as a field trip. She missed it because she won science fair advancing to city finals.
    My husband said it was the best feel good science film he has ever seen, and it is not often he gets choked up over a movie.

  16. It is curious that the winner of ‘best movie’ did not also win ‘best director’. I am not suggesting that this is evidence of any conspiracy (a quick google search suggests it happens quite frequently, for example in 2016, 2014 and 2013) but I struggle to understand how you can be the best director if you haven’t made the best film and conversely why you are not the best director if you have made the best film!

  17. Well ‘best movie’ depends on the director, actors, cinematography, effects and script. It is entirely possible to imagine that the best direction might be of a fairly modest film that was beautifully put together (best director) but eclipsed by a spectacular with big-name actors for the best movie.

    cr

    1. Hmm… I’d go along with that argument with respect to all the other award categories – best screenplay, cinematography, actors etc on the basis that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. The director is the person who pulls all of these elements together to create the whole though, so it seems to me that if you haven’t created the best film you can’t really be the best director…

      1. Perhaps the producers brought together the director and all the other elements, thus making Best Movie a structural level higher. After all, it’s the producers who collect the award.

      2. Suppose the best movie is recognised as such by virtue of outstanding acting performances and breathtaking cinematography *even though* the direction on set was minimal?
        While another director did a superb job to salvage a low-budget flick with unknown actors and modest locations and turn it into a mini classic? Which would you say was the better director?

        It does happen, as you noted. I’m just suggesting ways in which it could logically come about.

        cr

        1. The “it” that does happen being that ‘best director’ and ‘best movie’ go to different films, of course.

          cr

  18. Tried to post this once before but it doesn’t appear to have posted. Please forgive if it double posts.

    Is it not possible that “Moonlight” was simply a better movie than “La La Land”? (That, at least, is what the critics on Rotten Tomatoes decided by a small margin.) If you’ve seen both movies, weigh in.

    Allow me first to say that I have not seen either film, and second, that it is certainly possible that Moonlight was simply the better film.

    That out of the way:

    This actually insults the movie, claiming that it won for its topic rather than its quality.

    You say that like it would be a novel or shocking occurrence for this to happen.

    Having seen almost none of the films nominated, I’ve predicted winners for best film 5 of the last 6 years, simply based on the topic of the film.

    2011:
    The Artist: A modern day black and white silent film.
    The reason I expected it to win: The film gives the people voting for it a reason to say, “See! Hollywood is still artistic.”

    2012:
    Argo: Rescuing Tehran hostages.
    I didn’t really have a feeling on any of the films from this year.

    2013:
    12 Years A Slave: Horrors of slavery, injustice of a free man being enslaved
    The reason I expected it to win: Horrors of slavery, commentary on racial injustice

    2014:
    Birdman: Washed up actor, previously played a superhero, trying to break back in as a serious actor
    The reason I expected it to win: It is what all of Hollywood fears put right out there, it’s jarring to acting types. Normally I’d have predicted Selma to win, but coming off of an award for a commentary on racial injustice just the year prior, it didn’t seem like they go back to that trough so quickly.

    2015:
    Spotlight: Breaking of the Catholic church child sex abuse ring (I know, I know).
    The reason I expected it to win: Stick it to the conservatives, stick it to the church. Really this was a story that everyone already knew, and I would have expected for it to have had more of a chance for it to have died out in the public concious a bit longer before Hollywood made this movie, but they did.

    2016:
    Moonlight: A gripping tale about an inner city youth, his trials, injustices visited upon him, and he turns out at the end to be gay.
    The reason I expected it to win: After the s**tstorm the previous year it was going to go to a film with a predominantly black cast. This one was a wet dream for the Academy, not only was it about a black inner city youth, and systematic racism, he turned out to be GAY! The main character was the minority of the minority!

    Now, I’m not necessarily saying that any of these films was unworthy of the award, or that any of the other films up at the time were more worthy of the award. My point is that, if, not having seen any of them, I can pick the winner with such accuracy based simply on the topic of the film, a good argument can be made that the content of the films has significantly more to do with the award than does any of the other criteria.

    1. I’m sceptical you’re really basing your predictions on the films’ subject matter to the extent you think you are. One can form a reasonably well-grounded opinion as to which films win simply by plugging into the zeitgeist – getting a sense of what films everyone else thinks everyone else thinks will win.

      I’m not saying that films’ subject matter is completely irrelevant here – merely that your six-year experiemnet could yield exactly the same results even if it was. Maybe you’ve correctly divined the factors that led to the victory of each of the films you mention. Or maybe you’ve just concocted some convincing post hoc rationalisations.

      1. I suppose that I have no way of ruling out your initial point. However, I will note that the number of people who had actually seen most of the films nominated this year (and most years), prior to the awards, was small, so there really wasn’t much of a buzz for most of them upon which such a sense would have been defined. (The only reason I think this was because a local radio show was talking about the point the week before the awards [and they were not making predictions, they were only talking about the poll results showing that only 3 of the films nominated had been seen by more than ~10% of people polled]).

        Also, in the content that I tend to consume, discussions of films is not frequent.

        Maybe you’ve correctly divined the factors that led to the victory of each of the films you mention. Or maybe you’ve just concocted some convincing post hoc rationalisations.

        These weren’t post hoc rationalizations though, these were the actual reasons I gave when picking them to win before they were announced as the winners, pre hoc as it were.

        1. By “post hoc” I don’t mean “post victory”. I mean that you might be forming your impressions of what films will win based not on the reasons you advance but on your reading of the general social vibe; and [i]after you’ve formed this gut opinion[/i] (but before the actual envelopes are opened), confabulating some more articulable reasons to justify your impression.

          I suspect this just as strongly in my own case as in yours. I predicted five of the six wins you did (Spotlight was the toss-up I wasn’t sure of), and I too would probably have given an explanation in terms of the content or nature of the film if I’d been pressed.

          1. Aha! Now I see what you meant.

            I still doubt it for the reasons that I elucidated above, chiefly lack of exposure to an outlet from which I could glean enough to form said gut opinion, but again, I suppose it’s at least possible.

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