As you all know, I’ve been here a long time. Too long, really. I’ve overstayed my welcome. The country has changed. The culture has changed. I’ve been writing about the Oscars from the beginning of the year to the end of the year through Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. It’s hard to imagine when I started was the same year Al Gore lost by just 500 votes. Imagining that event happening now, with Twitter and journalism’s complete capitulation to it, makes me think we might have had something like a civil war break out rather that frustrated acquiescence. So that’s good and bad, right? Good because some things call for a revolution. But bad because where Twitter is concerned outrage takes the place of facts.
The tl;dr of this piece (the too long is what follows) is that a list of criteria for eligibility is only going to provide temporary immunity from the wave of dissent and concession still to come. What caused both the BAFTA and the Academy to impose these guidelines was no kind of reality that anyone outside the feedback loop pays attention to. It had to do with anger and frustration among an unknown number of people whose voices, for better or worse, have found a megaphone on Twitter. That ruckus then turned into think pieces at reputable outlets and yet more think pieces online, which then got linked via on Twitter and cycled around social media to affirm a belief system, which then eventually got distilled into a concept: the BAFTA and the Academy are racist.
That’s because Twitter has produced a “planet of cops.” In his infamous essay, Freddie DeBoer, what we have on our hands is the capacity for any individual who is so inclined to become a cop:
The irony of our vibrant and necessary police reform movement is that it’s happening simultaneously to everyone becoming a cop. I mean everyone — liberal, conservative, radical and reactionary. Blogger, activist, pundit, and writer, obviously, but also teacher, tailor, and candlestick maker. Cops, all of them. Cops everywhere. Everybody a cop.
The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7. You search and search for someone Bad doing Bad Things, finding ways to indict writers and artists and ordinary people for something, anything. That movie that got popular? Give me a few hours and 800 words. I’ll get you your indictments. That’s what liberalism is, now — the search for baddies doing bad things, like little offense archaeologists, digging deeper and deeper to find out who’s Good and who’s Bad. I wonder why people run away from establishment progressivism in droves.
Thus, every film is picked over to see if it satisfies the requirements (driven by, it must be said, mostly white liberals — who are more inclined towards being cops than anyone else. Why? Because they want to seem like they’re the good guys fighting injustice everywhere) and all of this has happened and will continue to happen on Twitter because that’s the easiest place to put on a show. One person is offended, that makes the thing offended. One person feels marginalized by a movie, that makes the film oppressive and behind the times. People rally behind someone they see feels oppressed. It is unending and unbearable and the more extreme it gets the more it can choke the life out of art. But hey, who cares, right? Most people don’t.
I think of the great movies I know are coming out this year that have all white casts and how that will play. I am imagining every white male director feeling like a criminal for making a great movie simply because they’re fucking talented, not because they’re white and they’re male. I’m thinking about how I watched a movie last night I loved but thought was directed by a woman and thus, would land in all of the top categories because it was THAT good — turns out to have been made by a white man and thus, the odds of its chances drop.
Though the inclusion standards are great in terms of potential opportunities, especially among below the line openings, the people behind these new guidelines who dare to presume that they should meddle with ART by making it woke enough to satisfy Twitter are playing a losing game, my friends. Their efforts, no matter how how carefully conceived, won’t be enough to satisfy demands, because they CAN’T, because the line keeps moving, because the idea isn’t just to make change. This is about power.
It doesn’t matter whether or not a production meets the guidelines put forth by the Academy in so far as Twitter is concerned. Twitter only responds to what it can police, and that is what it sees. It only sees the major categories. Take, for example, the fact that only one white male director has won in the past eight years:
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Alejandro G. Inarritu, The Revenant
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Does that diversity matter to Twitter? If it does, it’s apparently not enough. The reason being, no matter what else happened prior to last year, that all of the acting nominees were white in 2019 was proof that the Academy, and the country were racist and sexist since no women made the cut for Best Director. Despite its inclusive cast, Joker was somehow branded the white guy’s movie and seen as the expendable option to get “a woman, any woman” into the race. Little Women had an all white, or mostly white cast and that didn’t matter because it was directed by a woman.
But the Academy voters can only do so much to satisfy the requirements every year. They can only fish from the stream that is sourced by studios. The idea that admitting thousands of people of color would necessarily mean they would choose films based on their ethnicity seems to have proven false. In large part, they still lean toward choosing the same type of movies the white voters do: they pick the performances and films they like best. And that doesn’t always mean they will vote for films that reflect their own ethnicity. For one thing, films about people of color, films about women are greatly limited. Why, because for the most part they have to send the “right” message.
Films by and about white men can tell whatever story they want. Imagine the lead character of Joker as a black male (how fascinating, btw). Complexity is not a luxury that a marginalized community seems willing to afford. They have to correct negative stereotypes and uphold ideals. But that might not make the most interesting stories. Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite isn’t great because he is telling you how everyone should view Koreans. He is out of that system entirely and feels no such pressure. He is simply telling you about the contradictory horrors of humanity in a capitalist system.
As someone who has been doing this a long time (did I mention I’ve been doing this a long time?) I knew that we were headed for disaster in that all of the popular performances (Little Women included) were white. I knew it was going to be a problem. I pushed for Dolemite Is My Name and Queen & Slim because I thought they were worthy of inclusion. But it made no difference. Even on Twitter the only attention given was for white actors.
But when the nominations came down, there was anger — even though the last-minute push for Little Women likely knocked out the lone potential actor of color in Supporting — Jennifer Lopez. Awkwafina also missed in lead. That isn’t Little Women’s fault, but once an actor or writer or director has their place in line it becomes much harder to knock it out. In the end, the voters liked Little Women more than they liked Hustlers. Or else the push for Little Women was stronger. Either way, neither of these films were better than the films that were at the top of the pile. And if you aren’t talking about something that is actually BEST but best because people demand inclusion then you need to get everyone on board at the same time with that performance or movie.
And that is what happened with Parasite. Maybe it would have won anyway, because it’s brilliant, but not winning the Producers Guild or the Directors Guild, then winning SAG, tells you that the Actors Branch helped put Parasite over the top. And a lot of that, very likely, had to do with the blowback from the all white acting nominees and the plague of guilt they felt as a result of that. Had Parasite not won, and 1917 had — imagine the headlines the next day.
Either way, the Academy and BAFTA want to be able to cover their ass — so they have put out these regulations for that very reason — so that when Twitter flips out they can say, well, we did everything we could short of ending the Oscars entirely.
Twitter is the thing all corporations fear. All film productions fear. All directors fear. Actors. Writers. Anyone on the left in politics. It has corrupted journalism almost completely, becoming a useless feedback loop that simply confirms the story Twitter wants. Twitter likes it so it gets shared and amplified and stats are tabulated so more stories like that appear. The same is true across the board for movies and anything that can be impacted by Twitter. Like, the Oscars. You can criticize the decision to hire Kevin Hart — please don’t, we know, we get it — but the fact remains that no one is perfect enough to both host the Oscars and draw high ratings. If there were then a replacement would have have be easy to find. Twitter is the problem. It takes criticism to entirely new levels of hate into the realm of public humiliation. That is really what Twitter is. It’s the arena. It’s the Colosseum. It’s the town square. And until it becomes powerless we all remain at its mercy. For better and worse, but let’s face it, mostly worse.
Twitter took what was already happening online — democratization of film coverage (and politics and everything else) and turned it into a collection of angry hives. The hive does the thinking for you and it doesn’t like dissent. It will, in fact, eject dissent. It requires everyone goes along with it. If you expect to be popular or of higher status on Twitter you must go along with it — in fact, not only go along with it but proclaim its directive loudly, boldly because otherwise you can’t watch your likes rise. You can’t go viral.
Humans have never been reliable when we have access to public humiliation arenas. If we can drag someone out into the public square and humiliate them (at best), hang them at worst, we will take full advantage of that power. There will be those who hungrily go along with it, cheering or booing from the sidelines. And there will be those who stay silent in horror and fear that the mob will turn on them. And there are those who stand up to it, bravely, who are later vindicated by history for having inexplicable courage. But if your status, livelihood, entire career and human relationships are put in jeopardy if you disagree with something you know is wrong, you’re less likely to take the risk. Better to go along with it, to stay silent, or join in.
Sound familiar? It should. This happens with frequency throughout human history. Twitter has given us untold amounts of power of collective voice — or, mob rule. This has been great in some ways. It has evened the score between marginalized voices and the “white male patriarchy.” If in real life the country, and world, is mostly ruled by men, on Twitter that is not true. If the country is roughly 60% White, and 12-13% Black, 18% Hispanic, 5% Asian, on Twitter that makes no difference whatever. The hives dominate. All that matters is how many voices a hive has and it doesn’t match with the population numbers. This is why 60% of Americans recently polled say they feel too afraid to say what they really think online. They don’t want to go up against a hive.
What the hives are best for, though, is putting pressure on companies to impact their profit. Other than just plain public humiliation, which can end careers (at least temporarily), the power of voice on Twitter means that a whole group can bring down a film for not following the rules. It can threaten to boycott a company or a program or a museum or a college or a publishing company and that risk will make them immediately comply. It is a kind of power, but the jury is still out on whether that translates to real power. So far, to me, it doesn’t seem to. The reason being, we’re still talking about a minority controlled medium that has an outsized effect on the majority.
In order to overcome all this, The Oscars, and every film production, will need to stand up to Twitter. The best way to do that is to realize you are a trending topic for a day and accept. Take the flak and don’t flinch. The next day something else will come along to take the heat off. In the end, what seems like a very big deal evaporates very quickly. I should know. I’ve been the center of a great many Twitter swarms. To see a hive turn into a angry hornet’s nest just poke it with a stick. Prepare to get stung, but they only chase you until boredom overtakes them and they’re soon back to business of serving their queen and making honey. Come out from among them and be ye separate.