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Oscars 2015: Bland comedy, racial bias and girl power

Updated March 01, 2015

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Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu
Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu

In the middle of every year’s Academy Awards ceremony, the current president of the organisation takes up a somber moment on stage to address the principles of the Academy — and to remind us of the Oscarcast’s noteworthy increase in worldwide viewership; this makes the Oscars a grand podium to voice matters graver than the stories most nominated pictures represent.

While custom dictates that the Academy will be targeted for missing out on addressing key issues in the president’s speech — for instance, like the racial bias in nominations this year — the Oscars stage rarely lets global and terrestrial affairs go unheeded. Trended concerns — and applauses — that day involved a love for international artistic talent (with Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu’s triple win for Birdman), respect and equality for women, and racial bias in Hollywood (people seem to forget that Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy and a celebrated industry marketing executive, is also African American).

There are also three other significant trends that continues this year — that of pushing American nationalistic bravado on the global forefront, highlighting box-office grossers in undeserving categories, and patting the backs of industry favourites. While Big Hero 6 (our only upset in the Oscar’s prediction) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 both fall into the ‘back patting’ category, American Sniper — as evident of by the quirk of its title – nails all three in a single dead-shot. The film, in midst of worldwide controversy, is a classic example of overselling the dazed-in-patriotism angle of the American mindset (The Hurt Locker was far better).

When predicting the Oscars, we’re always aware of the industry’s inclination to support drastic single-minded motion pictures because of the message they propagate; American Sniper — thankfully — only walked off with one rightly deserved win for Sound Editing.

In contrast to life-adapted motion pictures, the documentaries have it better: the win for Citizenfour shows the seriousness of change in the Academy voter’s mindset. However, the win could also be attributed to the close-to-home message of the documentary itself.

Still, the year’s awards were mostly justified. Alexandre Desplat’s win after eight nominations and Whiplash’s wins in Best Supporting Actor, Editing and Sound Mixing were the night’s highpoints. The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman, both walking off with four wins, and Boyhood — director Richard Linklater’s 12-year effort charting a young boy’s formative years — was near-shunned.

As far as predictions go, we pegged 17 wins, 4 awards went to our personal favourites, and only one was a predicted upset. There were no misses. The accuracy only validates where fellows of the Academy would vote ‘within’ the shortlisted nominees; it doesn’t give insight on why certain titles or craftsmen (and women) were not picked in the first place. For instance, one of the bigger shuns of the nominations was the exclusion of Ava DuVernay, the director of the critical favourite Selma. The media, though, interpreted this as an act against race and gender equality.

Personally, I believe this wasn’t the case, though case-studies do make this a valid argument: Katherine Bigelow is the only woman to have won the Director’s award — ever; she is the fourth woman to be nominated in Oscar history. As far as actresses go, Halle Berry is the only woman of colour to have won Best Actress.

John Legend and Common’s win for Original Song prompted a speech about the struggle to protect voting rights for coloured individuals. Legend called the US “the most incarcerated country in the world,” and that there are now more “black men under correctional control than were under slavery in 1850.”

Girl power had a lot of screen-time before and during Oscar night. On the Red Carpet, Reese Witherspoon discouraged routine questions about stylists and clothes by promoting the #AskHerMore. “This is a movement to say we’re more than just our dresses. There are 44 nominees this year that are women and we are so happy to be here and talk about the work that we’ve done,” she said. Patricia Arquette’s pro-feminist speech was unexpected and fierce at which Meryl Streep and others roared their admiration. Nevertheless that didn’t stop Neil Patrick Harris’s immaturely scripted misfire when he crudely compared Oprah Winfrey with American Sniper. The joke didn’t target her gender or race, but the fact that she was one of the most financially successful individuals in the room, and that Sniper is now the most profitable war film in box-office history.

While there are always falling-outs over what the Oscar’s failed to address annually, no one seemed to applaud the fact that eight out of nine Best Picture nominees were independents, and not from major studios like Sony, Paramount, Disney or 20th Century Fox; their only priority, as we all know from the recent few years, is limited to producing the next popular superhero on the block.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 1st, 2015

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