In 1998, I was among the 55 million Americans who watched the Oscars. I probably went to an Oscar watch party and likely saw all five of the films nominated for best picture. To be sure, Hollywood had been heading slowly south for the previous 30 years, but I hung in there anyhow.
This year, I was not among the 15 million people who watched the Oscars. I had seen only three of the 10 top movies and only two in the theater. And had not Will Smith bitch-slapped host Chris Rock, I might not have even known the Oscars had come and gone.
Moments after the slap heard round the world, Smith won the best actor Oscar for his role in the film “King Richard.” The audience applauded as if they had not just watched an arguably criminal case of assault. No big deal. A few years back they gave a standing O to child-rapist Roman Polanski.
Did Smith deserve to win? Who knows? In the way of background, in 2016, Smith, his wife, Jada Pinkett, and a host of other celebrities boycotted the Oscars as part of the “Oscars So White” campaign. Apparently, too many white people had ben nominated that year.
The one good joke that came out of the campaign went like this: Had the bear featured in the film “The Remnant” been a polar bear, it too would have won an award.
The one good (repeatable) joke about this year’s Oscar slap went like this: Chris Rock was lucky he didn’t offend Alec Baldwin’s wife.
Chris Rock hosted in 2016 and made light of the protesters. About Smith’s wife that year he observed, a bit crudely, “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.” The audience laughed and applauded.
Rock also observed that Jada was upset because “her man Will” was not nominated for the movie “Concussion.” “It’s not fair that Will was this good and was not nominated,” Rock said with a wry smile, adding ironically, “It’s also not fair that Will was paid 20 million for ‘Wild Wild West.'” Touché.
The 2016 boycott worked – after a fashion. Stung by the accusation of systemic racism, the guilty whites of the Motion Picture Academy proceeded to strip all meaning out of a nearly century-old tradition.
They threw open the Academy’s voting rolls, doubled the number of nominated films and sent out the word to its members to nominate people of color or women or something other than white guys – or else.
In 2017, as night follows day, the Academy gave the best picture award to “Moonlight,” a low-budget, underperforming film about a gay black dude that could put even the woke to sleep.
This year, the Academy gave best picture award to “CODA,” a movie about a white family. What put this film in the running is that most of the family members in question were deaf.
To be fair, Hollywood has long had a weakness for films about the physically impaired. In fact, since Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for “Rain Man,” nearly half of acting Oscars have been given for portrayals of a disability or an illness.
“CODA” did not win, however, for best director. That award went to Jane Campion, the only female nominated, for a gay Western that I quit about a third of the way through, “The Power of the Dog.”
The best supporting actress award went to a female of color. The best documentary award went to a black director in his filmmaking debut. The best live action short film award went to a Pakistani. The best animated feature went to a film with an all Hispanic cast.
Did any of these actors or directors deserve to win? I don’t know. Unfortunately, neither do they.
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