On Friday I stuck up for the movie industry. Last night the Academy Awards made me regret it. I’ve defended both films and the Oscars from their conservative naysayers in the past (and for the record, I still think the Right tends to be obnoxious about pop culture), but the telecast last night was beyond the pale even for me. The ceremony was painfully boring and aggressively unfunny. Most times, the predictably left-wing signaling of the event is (at least somewhat) balanced out by the intrigue and humor. Not this time. This time, the politics of identity and grievance were the intrigue. They were the point of the whole evening, far more so than the films.
Consider a revealing moment that took place late in the evening. Actress Emma Stone, presenting the Oscar for Best Director, was filled with the spirit of the #MeToo theme of the night. She used her introductory comments to poke the Oscars for not nominating enough women in the category:
This was the moment Emma Stone introduced the Best Director nominees: "These four men and Greta Gerwig created their own masterpieces this year." https://t.co/KGJMUsrKoH #Oscars pic.twitter.com/S0cICWWeqZ
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 5, 2018
Punch-meet-nose, right? Well, not so fast. Stone’s snark didn’t land too well with those who were cheering the nomination of Jordan Peele, only the fifth African-American to be nominated in the directing category. Did Stone’s gender barb marginalize Peele’s achievement?
I hope Emma Stone realizes that Jordan Peele is also an anomaly in this category. White woman really have no understanding of intersectionality 🙃 #Oscars
— Nakia of Q'Noma Valley (@ThatGirl_Wiggy) March 5, 2018
Peak white feminism from Emma Stone. Pointing out that 4 of the nominees are men while ignoring that 2 of those men are minorities.
— Nik Reed (@REEDandSTUFF) March 5, 2018
This is a very helpful illustration of the dilemma that identity politics create. Choosing to honor one underrepresented person entails the choice not to honor a different one. If the arc of film history bends toward justice, does it land finally on a female director or a minority studio head? A transgender actress or a disabled male actor? How do you sort through the competing interests of the aggrieved without further aggrieving anyone?
This sort of thing was thick in the air last night, and I honestly wonder if the showrunners realize how alienating it is to most of the country. For the average woman in the average American workplace, #MeToo means hoping that your boss never asks you to have a “emergency meeting” with him at a hotel. It means living and thriving in a society shaped in the image of pornography. The architects of the Oscars seem to believe that the essence of equality is to give more awards to more female children of wealthy, connected parents, and to brag about how sexually woke Call Me By Your Name is because it’s about gay men, not because it’s about a 25 year old and a teenager. Hollywood cannot create enough “Time’s Up” pins to exorcise the ghosts of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. It would not want to even if it could.
And the cost of dedicating the night to politics is that we lost almost all sense of the wonder of film itself. The high point of the ceremony was the decision to introduce the major categories with montages from award-winning films of the past. These were delightful, but they were also strategic: We had to be reminded every 30 minutes why we were even watching this stuff at all. There was hardly any love of movies in the voices of most of the presenters and winners. The stories themselves were shelved due to the urgency of the messaging. I love movies, and last night was not an event for people who love movies. It was a night for people who love industries.