The Oscars can be a kaleidoscope view of our world — spectacular and surreal. Or they can be a microscope, honing in with sharp perspective on matters we’re obliged to observe with crystal clarity. The themes that course through this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture will likely be far more consequential than stories of a king from the 1930s who stuttered or a silent movie star who lost his mojo. For voters in recent years, those films offered a path of least resistance; they delivered a lot but asked so little of us in return.
Between then and now, we’ve witnessed a divided America, a hard fought election, a second-term victory by the first black president, and the subsequent fallout which cannot yet be measured. These events have altered our perceptions of ourselves as Americans. How could they not? 2012 wasn’t a bloody civil war but it often felt that a physical clash was just a few hurled insults away. Racist tweets from young students in the deep South using hateful epithets you just don’t hear anymore were quickly investigated and rightly outed. At this very moment, signatures are being gathered from at least 15 states on petitions to secede from the union. All because a black man is in power and he won’t step aside until he finishes the job he started. Nothing has ever made America lose its head the way it has over this.