Hi Meltingpot Readers,
Did you watch the Oscars last night? I didn’t. I wasn’t boycotting or anything, I just didn’t have any particular reason to watch. I’m not a fan of Seth MacFarlane. In fact, before the Oscars, I had never even heard of him. And of all of the Oscar nominated films, I’ve only seen two, Argo and Django Unchained. And, quiet as it’s kept, I don’t really care what Hollywood’s rich and richer wear to the ceremony. Even when I worked at Entertainment Weekly and covered Oscar fashion, I never understood why people care so much about the dresses on the red carpet. But that’s just me.
Some people thought the Oscar’s were devoid of color this year, meaning the Black experience, Black actors and Black filmmakers just weren’t visible enough in this year’s Oscar round-up. And those same people either silently or vocally boycotted the show. Not me, I just watched a movie and folded laundry like any other Sunday night. My dissatisfaction wasn’t public. But when I stopped to think about it, this year’s collection of Oscar contenders owes so much to the Black experience. I mean without Black people, would Lincoln be anything more than a film about a president who ruled during a time of war? Lincoln’s story is so compelling because of the Black people whose lives he forever changed by signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln would just be the dude with the hat if he hadn’t (unwillingly) freed the slaves. It is their lives and their struggle that brings meaning and depth to Lincoln’s presidency and thus to the film.
And of course Django Unchained, like it or hate it, only exists because of the horror of slavery that Black people endured for over four hundred years in this country. Quentin Tarantino would have had to mine some other ethnic horror story for the plot of his latest revenge fantasy film if he didn’t have the Black experience for fodder. Make no mistake, I don’t hold it against him that he chose to tell Django Unchained. I liked the movie. I’m just saying, without the Black American experience, Tarantino would have written just another cowboy flick.
And then there is the adorable Quvenzhané Wallis. By being the youngest Best Actress Academy Award nominee, she gave everybody their feel good Oscar story for the season. She made magazine covers, visited talk shows and even scored a new movie deal. Sure, the same could have happened with a little White kid, but she’s not White, and that matters because her experience has been different. And the role she played in Beasts of the Southern Wild, was no Disneyfied experience. A little White kid couldn’t have been Hushpuppy.
Now, I am totally not trying to start something –except maybe a conversation– but I think this borrowing from the Black experience trend should be examined. This is nothing new of course, non Black people telling Black stories, but it sure is wearisome in some kind of cultural appropriation/ ancestral stealing kind of way. Or maybe it’s not the borrowing of Black life that feels like betrayal, but rather the lack of opportunity for Black people to tell their own stories and be heard and celebrated by the rest of the world. I don’t know for sure.
All I do know is that I’d like to watch the Oscars next year and be excited by the diversity on the big screen and behind the scenes. And, not for nothing, I’d like to see that diversity extend beyond the Black experience and consider the Latino, Asian, and Native American experience as well. I mean our history in this country is nothing if not filled with amazing and colorful stories.
What do you think dear readers? Did you watch the Oscars last night? Why or why not? I’m listening with both ears.