Change for the Good

America is part of a global multi-racial community whether the insurrectionists of Jan. 6 like it or not.

This is a fact and it’s not going to change.  Ever.

Get used to it!

If anything, thanks in part to social media and social revolution, we are only going to get more multi-racial and more global.

Despite all the bellyaching from those preferring to benefit from our traditionally white, male heterosexual power structure.

Numbers don’t lie no matter how many times those doing their best to suppress the truth tell us a fork is actually a spoon…or a salad bowl.

If you want to put politics aside, and who doesn’t right now, one way to consider just how much things have changed is to look at this year’s Oscar nominations.

Huh? Chairy?

Flee, a mostly animated movie that tells the harrowing story of a young gay Afghan refugee’s nail biting escape from his war-torn country, was nominated for best documentary, best animated feature AND best international film.

That’s a first.

OK… good start

Japan’s Drive My Car received four nominations, including breakout ones for best picture and director, and Norway’s The Worst Person in the World nabbed an unexpected screenplay nod aside from the one it got for international film.

In the acting categories, four people of color received nominations (down from last year’s record high of nine).  But among those are top contenders like Will Smith in King Richard and Ariana DeBose in West Side Story, both of whom are favored to win in their categories.

Bonus points for the openly queer nominees!

Though before we start to believe we’ve truly toppled the Oscar Confederacy and, in turn, the international Confederacy of straight white, American maleness (Note: Don’t worry guys, we still want to include you always), here’s a very brief recent history of Oscar numbers to chew on.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences began a real diversity push in earnest more than five years ago when #OscarsSoWhite became a shameful international hashtag due to the lack of diversity among that year’s nominees and winners (Note: Not a single Black actor was nominated in either 2015 or 2016 in any of the 20 possible slots).

But this had a great deal to do with the voting members in the Academy.  At that time 92% of the membership was white and 75% was male. 

You know… him

After a push to recruit a more diverse membership, these days approximately 84% of the members are white and 16% are non-white.  Its female membership also increased to more than 32%.

The statistics among new members are a lot better.  For example, of the 819 new people who became Oscar voters in 2020, 45% were women and 36% were people of color.

If the Academy keeps going at this rate, who knows, it might not even be news when a woman receives a nomination as best director (Note: Jane Campion actually became the first female in history to be nominated twice in that category this year for The Power of The Dog, following last year’s nomination and win for Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), the first female POC to be so recognized).

Yes queen!

Though it still might break a few insurrectionists hearts when Ava DuVernay or use your imagination finally, finally, FINALLY gets their turn at the podium.

Still, we digress.

The real story of this year’s Oscar contenders, and inevitably surprising winners, really lies in the number of new international members welcomed into the Oscar voting fold during the last five years.  For a deeper dive, check out these stories in the Hollywood Reporter, Vox and Slate:

But if you want to truly understand the slow but steady shifting tide of one of our top entertainment cultural signifiers – the Oscars – and, in turn, all the kicking and screaming and spitting up from Fox News watchers– here is one simple way in.

The membership of the Academy has swelled to just about 9400 active members in 2021 compared to the 6261 it had in 2016.  That’s a 47% increase.

Consider me intrigued…

But even more interesting is that a significant portion of those new members came not only from a minority population but from outside the U.S. 

In 2022, more than 25% of all Academy members (nee voters) are from countries other than America, vs. a mere 12% just six years ago.

This gives deeper meaning to what Oscar-winning writer-director Billy Wilder was famously quoted as saying to the cameraman on one of his movies way back when: 

Shoot a few scenes out of focus.  I want to win the foreign film award.

Closeups remained in tact, Norma, don’t worry.

Now I love Billy Wilder as much as the next movie fan, perhaps even more.  But he was speaking at a particular place and time.  And as a European immigrant who embraced the style of American cinema while helping to significantly redefine it with lacerating wit, strong characterizations and unrelenting social commentary.

The Academy these days has wisely decided, though long overdue, to actively move forward from his now somewhat provincial, though still cringingly funny, dated point of view.

Its slow, somewhat steady embrace of international cinema (Note: Starting with South Korea’s Parasite best picture win in 2020), as well as its recognition of various minority and female viewpoints among this year’s nominated crop of films and members, is a welcome change and, yes, love overdue.

Meryl approved

And though I clearly can’t be sure, I’d bet, as an immigrant, even Wilder would fully endorse it.

Because ironically, when you think about it, it’s just about the most American thing the Academy, in its new and present form, can do to move the industry and the culture forward.

Evolution vs. insurrection.

Sebastián Yatra – “Dos Oruguitas” (from Encanto — Disney’s first Spanish language song nomination, second in the history of the Oscars)

Why Don’t You Just Blog About It?

It was hard to know what to write about this week.  Not because there wasn’t enough but because there was too much in too many areas.

This happens when you have a weekly column or, in this case, create a weekly column for yourself. 

Many people have asked me over the last ten years –

So Chair, why do it?  Why put this pressure on yourself?  And us?

Not a picture of me on Saturday night writing this blog… not at all

My stock answer is to quote Jim Harwood, my late colleague at Daily Variety, when asked what qualified him to review movies:

Because I have an opinion and a place to print it.

Glib as this answer was and still is, it’s only partly true. 

Discourse, disagreement and the inevitable didacticism it evokes, are how we survive. 

It’s how the world survives.  And, in turn, how it thrives.

This helps too

I never much liked the word didactic, probably because I feared it applied too much to me and wasn’t quite sure of it’s true definition.

To be didactic – meaning to be inclined to teach or lecture to others too much, and often in too boring a way, is not something to aspire to. 

Especially in a self-created weekly column.

When it’s an opinion you don’t want to hear or one with which you vehemently disagree, most of our knee jerk reactions are to feel talked down to and/or lectured to.  We want to turn the channel, scroll past or, more often than not, simply tune out and/or walk out of the room.

This energy… always

This isn’t good nor is it healthy for ourselves, our country or the world.

It’s a behavior that was enabled by the Reagan Administration when it did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which in many ways privatized the news business, stripping it of any real legal responsibility to be fair.

When you are not required to present opposing viewpoints in some way, shape or form, especially when speaking and writing about the events of the day, you are NOT being fair.  You are giving opinions that masquerade as news and getting people to believe you without knowing all the facts.

Still, it’s a start.

This is where writing a column, okay A BLOG, comes in.

Oh come now, the Chair ALWAYS has something to say #bloggingrightnow

None of what’s here could readily be classified as news coverage even though it does speak to what’s going on in the world during any given week.

Sometimes the goings on have to do with pop culture.  Other times it’s a treatise on bad drivers (Note: Everyone else) or the blissful simplicity of a plain white shirt.  And more than I realized in the last four years, it’s been a serious condemnation of racism, sexism and homophobia – in other words, a repudiation of Trumpism.

For this writer, and often the readers, it’s a way to externalize the internal emotions, often a mix of passion and anger, which drives one crazy to keep in.  An avenue to put it out into the world where it can be:

1. Identified

2. Seen

3. Discussed

And, most importantly –

4. HEARD

YES, YES, YES #merylwouldagree

To get all of the above is the jackpot and it doesn’t often happen.  The discourse equivalent of a singer who gets a four-chair turn during the blind auditions on NBC’s The Voice.

But you don’t need ALL FOUR coaches to want you on their team in order to win a singing competition.  Just like you don’t need everyone, or even the majority of people, to agree with you in order to ultimately win an argument and begin to change the world. (Note: Or at least make yourself feel better).

You just need ONE coach or ONE person to listen.  Then you continue to
“sing” and convince a few more.  And then more.  Until, well….you get what I mean.

It might not mean you’ll become The Voice but as they say in Oscar season, it’s a honor to be nominated.

Someday Amy…. Someday

Or at least on a list that was considered to be nominated.

I think of a blog, a column, or even the vocalizing of a song or a viewpoint as a way to sing a song that needs to be sung.  If this sounds a little 1960s, well, why not?

That was a turbulent time but an era that provoked more social change than any decade since.

For example, here’s what was churning me up inside this week:

– SEVEN mass shootings in SEVEN days in the U.S.  Yeah, there were TEN people killed in Boulder, CO at the King Soopers Supermarket on Monday, March 22.  This followed the EIGHT people gunned down, including SIX Asian women, at three spas in Atlanta on Tuesday March 16. 

But did you know that between those two days there were TWENTY-THREE more people shot, killed and injured en masse in Stockton, CA, Gresham, OR, Houston, TX, Dallas, TX, and Philadelphia, PA?

So…. continue to stay home?

And that almost all of the major mass shootings in US over the last several decades were done with variations of a single weapon –  the AR-15 rifle? 

– EIGHT white guy legislators, led by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, had a behind closed doors bill signing that SEVERELY curbed the right to vote statewide. Among other things, it is now a CRIME to provide WATER to those standing in line to vote.  The bill also removes the MAJORITY of drop boxes for MAIL-IN BALLOTS, sharply cuts back on the amount of polling places TO vote and DRASTICALLY reduces the number of hours the remaining polling places will be open, particularly in areas with majority Black and Brown voters.

Interesting enough, this PRIVATE bill signing was done under a PAINTING of one of the state’s most notorious SLAVE PLANTATIONS right there in the governor’s office.  And when Georgia State Legislator Park Cannon, a Black female, knocked on the governor’s door to witness said signing she was promptly handcuffed, arrested AND dragged away TO JAIL where she was charged with TWO FELONIES?

This this this this

– Elsewhere, a group of EIGHTEEN Republican members of Congress in HUNTING GEAR patrolled the Texas border armed with RIFLES, presumably for protection against an army of gun-toting drugs lords illegally entering the U.S.  In truth, that border overwhelmingly features unaccompanied CHILDREN floating via INNER TUBE to escape thugs in their native Honduras, Nicaragua or El Salvador trying to either kill them or make them their drug runners. 

– It now costs a whopping $19.95 to stream new-ish Oscar-nominated movies like The Father on platforms such as Amazon and Google because desperate theatre owners like AMC want to make up for all the business lost during the pandemic.  No, this isn’t earth shattering but it pissed me off nevertheless.

UGHHHH

Any one of these could’ve been the subject of a “column” and now, in some small way, all of them are.    What’s eating you and how can you get it out of your head?  Where do you discuss it?  Who disagrees with you and why?  Do they have a point?  What broader questions does this bring to mind and can you at least read about it AND the opposing opinion?

Before you know it, you’re not so alone in your thoughts and you’ve created a column of your own.  Or at the very least, prevented yourself from imploding.

And have the pressure of each week figuring out what else is on your mind.

#DoItForDemocracy.

You’re welcome.

Bo Burnham – “Rant”

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