Madeleine Gaudin: The Oscars are out of touch (and not just because ‘Lady Bird’ lost)
I wish the Oscars were better. I wish there was a platform to properly acknowledge the look Laurie Metcalf gives in “Lady Bird” when Danny says, “There are actual train tracks.” And I wish had a microphone loud enough so everyone in the world could hear me yell, “Timmy was robbed!”
I wish, even more, that they didn’t matter to me. I wish I didn’t feel crushed watching “The Shape of Water” win Best Picture when I know the movies my children will still be watching (granting TVs and the Earth still exist) are “Lady Bird” and “Get Out.”
I’m mad that a TV event where off-screen white men give awards to their peers doesn’t adhere to my idea of justice. I can see the absurdity there. But the Academy proved itself — even when it wasn’t giving out statues — to be completely out of touch with the industry it is supposed to represent.
There were a hundred or so times during my Oscar watch party when the eyes in the room shifted to me. Any reference to “Lady Bird,” when someone thought they saw Adam Driver and when George Romero appeared in the In Memoriam segment. We sighed for Romero and Jonathan Demme and Harry Dean Stanton. And then it was over.
Now, I have a few issues with this part of the night. First of all: Eddie Vedder? Was literally no one else available? And secondly, the list of omissions that just about outnumbered the inclusions. The most jarring of which, at least for me, was Tobe Hooper.
I had to go back and check that Hooper actually died last year — he did — because I could not believe the Academy would do something that stupid. (That was supposed to be a joke! The Academy voters are morons in a deeper sense). Hooper belongs in the pantheon with Romero and Craven. Hooper wrote the visual terms for American horror, defined it as something indefinable.
The real irony is “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”’s iconic shot was included in the “magic of the movies” tribute supercut. Leatherface swinging his chainsaw through the air against that brilliant Texas sunrise — in isolation, it could be mistaken for a still from “Days of Heaven.” It is emblematic of the humor and beauty the permeate a Hooper low-budget gore-fest.
The Academy can, at least, recognize it as one of the most important images in the American film canon. But they can’t be bothered to recognize the person responsible for creating it.
They made the same kinds of moves the entire night. The Academy can nominate outside their comfort zone, but they’re still giving out awards like it’s 2016. With a few exceptions — Jordan Peele’s screenwriting win and “Phantom Thread”’s costumes were the few signs of the “justice” I mentioned earlier — the show played out the way I dreaded it would.
Maybe I’m fixating on the Hooper omission, but I really do think it points to the core of the Academy’s issue. Beyond their whiteness and their maleness and their oldness (all factors which illuminate the point I’m about to make next), it’s their genre-aversion.
People on Twitter will be quick to tell you (and me) that “The Shape of Water” is a horror film. It’s not. We’ve seen del Toro make horror. This is dark fantasy at best. This is the kind of movie that people who have never seen a horror movie call prestige horror.
Genre films got nominated. “Get Out” is horror. “Lady Bird” and “Call Me By Your Name” are coming of age movies. “Phantom Thread” is on the more bizarre end, but it’s still on the spectrum of serious period pieces (“Dunkirk,” “The Post,” “Darkest Hour”) that the Academy goes crazy for. I don’t even want to mention “Three Billboards,” but I will say dark comedy about the soul of America is well within the Academy’s comfort zone.
Our three true genre films illuminate the ways in which the stories of marginalized groups — people of color, women, the LGBT community — are not served by the methods of storytelling traditionally recognized by institutions like the Academy. To have a genre problem is to have a diversity problem, and the comparison between the winners and the nominees only underscores this point.
So the problem is bigger than leaving Tobe Hooper off a slideshow. But it’s moments like that, when we’re not watching with the same critical eye we watch the Best Picture announcement, that the Academy shows its cards.
Two years ago, they would’ve picked “Darkest Hour” — I feel very comfortable betting a large amount of money on that. With “Moonlight,” we moved in the right direction, and with “The Shape of Water,” I don’t know where exactly we moved, but we did. So there’s hope.
The Academy is out of touch and the whole model of award shows probably is as well. But until I have the clout to mail Laurie Metcalf an award and have it mean something, I know what to expect from the Academy Awards. Justice (my picture of justice, at least) will not be served.