Hollywood, and the media that revolve around it, is having a moment.
In Hollywood, during the Red Scare, the fear that crippled the industry, turned everyone against each other. The paranoid frenzy that led many to suspect that movies were somehow carrying dangerous anarchist messages was not only about exposing communists in their midst, but also about implicating anyone who might be associated with anyone who might be a communist. Communism was the thing, coming out of World War II, that scared Americans so much they were willing to turn in their friends, people they knew, because they had to turn on someone. They felt threatened by something they could not see or prove – it could be anywhere, in anyone.
The era of paranoia would eventually produce some great art. But to get to the art they had to be able to face the truth, the dark truth, the hard truth about what was actually happening versus how people were behaving inside the bubble of hysteria.
Humans are built for this kind of dynamic: build a utopia, protect that utopia, purge undesirables. We’re living through one right now not just in Hollywood, not just in the awards race, but on the Left overall. While most industry members and most Americans are not on board with what has come to be known as “cancel culture,” they will not speak out against it and, if given the chance, they will join in; if you are the person doing the accusing, then it’s likely you won’t be one of the accused. But really, anyone is vulnerable. Every day there is a new sacrifice, with no apparent end in sight.
I bring all of this up because we’re heading right into the center of the storm as we barrel towards the Oscars. Can the awards race even survive this level of intense scrutiny, where guilt and crimes are decided in the moment and punishment is enacted immediately, without any sort of rational perspective or due process. One after the other they fall – an old tweet, something said once, something worn once, even if you just defend people who have been cancelled you too will be targeted, as I have personally found out too many times on Twitter. They rationalize it and justify it as “holding people accountable” for the “bad things they do,” as though there are people who are walking around who have never said or done or thought a bad thing.
The Golden Globes and the BAFTA and the Oscars have all been exposed, dismantled, transformed. But have they been forgiven? Are they still seen as part of the systemic racism that the Left believes is everywhere in this country, in everything and in every person? As someone, a white person, said to me on Twitter yesterday, “Whiteness is evil.” Well, okay, so how do you come back from that? The answer from Twitter is always “do better.” That is supposed to be mean choose better, think better, watch better, read better, speak better – uphold the high ideals that will offer up redemption instead of persecution.
Variety’s Clayton Davis has written a scathing indictment of the Golden Globes that essentially says even making the hires they plan to make isn’t going to fix their problem of “systemic racism.” He doesn’t use that term but it is very much his point.
The organization has reportedly turned down press conferences for Black-led projects like “Bridgerton,” “Girls Trip” and “Queen & Slim,” giving various excuses that left some filmmakers with no real chance at attention from the Golden Globes, which are a strong precursor to the Academy Awards and the Emmys. Black artists and Time’s Up have called for radical change within the organization, calling for accountability from NBC Universal which hosts its annual show. Over 100 publicists have sent a letter to the HFPA stating they were instructing their clients to not work with the HFPA until “lasting change to eradicate the longstanding exclusionary ethos” is addressed.
It’s infuriating how easily the HFPA could fix the problems, but transparency is something the HFPA does not seem interested in. They seem to be only concerned with what director DuVernay recalled during her press conference for Netflix’s “When They See Us” — “more came in the room when the pix were to be taken, at which time two peddled their scripts.” In fact, the grip ‘n grin ritual of having the members take pictures with stars at the end of press conferences is another antiquated ritual that should be retired.
Message for the HFPA: If you want better press, then be better press. Simple as that.
I don’t disagree with Davis on his premise, that the hirings alone will not solve the problem they want solved – because I don’t think any film awards can meet the new standards. The reason being, you are dealing with power as the desired goal but the road getting there is about something ephemeral and subjective as our relationship to film and art. But what is the problem they want solved? What is the end goal? What is the point of any of film awards? The problem is with the members and the membership, it has been said, but what happens if they make all of those changes, add new members, do whatever is required of them to justify their annual showcase of contenders en route to Oscar and they still don’t pick the “right” nominees? I’ll never forget when I was part of the Women’s Journalist Film Critics groups and they chose Argo over Zero Dark Thirty. It is not always the case that voters will comply with a political desire for change. Why, because art is, well, art. It doesn’t always or necessarily follow that black members will always choose black films or black-themed films. Will that be the requirement for new members?
Missing in this conversation, and in Davis’ piece, is what the end result would look like. What would be an idea Golden Globes? Or BAFTA? Or Oscars?
It’s a reality that for decades Hollywood sold stories that ignored oppressed and neglected groups or even mocked them. But that isn’t true anymore. Our art now has been cleansed of any kind of potentially offensive content, probably to the point of making it less like art and more like a corrective guidebook for how we’re all supposed to be. Art is a way to expose truths in ways people can’t or don’t expect, but it can’t really do its job if it is being monitored and disciplined for correctness at the same time.
Ralph Fiennes talks about the aspect of monitoring or policing art in a recent interview with the Telegraph:
“I get worried if it’s decided that certain classical plays are irrelevant. I think often there’s a superficial reading – Restoration drama is ‘colonialist, hierarchical, quasi racist’. But they’re just plays. You can turn them on their head. The danger is of labelling stuff. These texts are there – so pull the humanity out of them, pull out the stuff that’s relevant. If you’re going ‘it doesn’t tick these boxes’, you’re lowering the portcullis of judgement before you’ve even got into the room with it. I think that’s troubling.”
He praises artistic free-spirits from other disciplines – citing Picasso and Henry Miller. “We need to have those voices that risk being offensive. How sad if we sat on any expressive voice that could shake the scenery, that could get inside us and make us angry and turn us on. I would hate a world where the freedom of that kind of voice is stifled.”
There is a very high likelihood that Fiennes will be made to apologize for having said what he actually thought instead of speaking in a way that won’t offend, which is how 99% of people in the public eye speak. Or maybe no one will care. Either way, he seems to be saying what a lot of artists probably are thinking but can’t say. If we can’t have a conversation how can we ever reach agreement or anything?
Literature used to be a place for transgressive ideas, a place to question taboos, and seek naked insights into humanity. It no longer is.
Critics, writers and publishers are today enforcing a new vision that treats books less as a vehicle for artistic expression than as a product to be inspected for safety and wholesomeness. In the past few years, this has only gained momentum, with much of what is written about literature, old and new, becoming a series of moral pronouncements.
And it ends this way:
None of this is to say that the inequities of our time can’t be addressed by other means—through economics and elections, through debate and compromise. But we must ask ourselves: Is this frenzy for censure, moralizing, and a seemingly endless expansion of the definition of harm, how we’ll correct current disparities and historical wrongs? Is this how we intend to talk about art from now on? Which is to say, we’d just talk politics, and hardly mention art at all.
The Oscars, the Globes, all of film awards are, for the foreseeable future, in the grips of a new moralism. There is no doubt about that. It springs from the need to be good. Goodness is the currency. But no human can be good all of the time. Sooner or later, their badness has to come out one way or another. Right now, that way is in chasing down anyone who commits a thoughtcrime, or says something offensive, or disagrees with the status quo. This is everywhere on the American Left right now, from politics to art and yes, to the Oscars.
Art has survived through phases of persecution, paranoia and great social upheaval. It survives because it has to. Humans will always need it as a way to relieve pressure, to expose hidden truths and to point out hypocrisy. I worry that so many young ones are growing up now believing they can and should police art the way they police their favorite influencers: watching everything they do to make sure it is 100% “correct.”
The broad prediction is that it is probably going to be a painful next two months. It will be painful in a lot of ways for a lot of different reasons, not the least of which is that so many of us are still trapped inside with only social media algorithms to bounce ideas off of.
And now, onto the reason you clicked on this link. Oscar predictions.
Predicting the Oscars is probably not going to be hard this year. The choices are limited as it is. There is a frontrunner and likely that frontrunner will carry through to the end of the season, April 25. I expect, when the Oscars are finally done, there will be a heavy sigh of relief that they (the awards community writ large) will be off the hot seat. Hopefully by this time next year we will have more than Twitter to shape our world view, our conversation, and our community.
1. Nomadland (Globe/Critics Choice winner Picture and Director, Scripter winner, PGA/DGA nominee)
3. Promising Young Woman
4. The Trial of the Chicago 7
5. Judas and the Black Messiah
7. Sound of Metal
8. The Father
1. Chloe Zhao, Nomadland (DGA)
2. David Fincher, Mank (DGA)
3. Lee Isaac Chung, Minari (DGA)
4. Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman (DGA)
5. Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
1. Chadwick Boseman
2. Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
3. Anthony Hopkins, The Father
4. Steven Yeun, Minari
5. Gary Oldman, Mank
1. Andra Day, The United States v. Billie Holiday
1. Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
3. Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
4. Frances McDormand, Nomadland
5. Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Mulligan is coming in with more nominations, Andra Day only has the one for Best Actress. But Day’s work is powerful enough that it could pull an upset, potentially. She won the Globe already but is not nominated for the SAG or the BAFTA. Mulligan is nominated for the SAG but not the BAFTA. So it’s a mess. And if it ain’t, it’ll do ’til the mess gets here.
Best Supporting Actor
1. Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
2. Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
3. Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami
4. Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
5. Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Best Supporting Actress
1. Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
2. Maria Bakalova, ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
3. Amanda Seyfried, Mank
4. Olivia Colman, The Father
5. Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Best Adapted Screenplay
2. One Night in Miami
3. The White Tiger
4. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
5. The Father
Best Original Screenplay
1. Promising Young Woman
2. The Trial of the Chicago 7
4. Judas and the Black Messiah
5. Sound of Metal
Best Costume Design
1. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Ann Roth
2. Mank, Trish Summerville
3. Emma, Alexandra Byrne
4. Mulan, Bina Daigeler
Best Original Score
1. Soul, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste
2. Mank, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
3. Minari, Emile Mosseri
4. Da 5 Bloods, Terence Blanchard
5. News of the World, James Newton Howard
1. Sound of Metal
5. News of the World
Best Film Editing
1. Sound of Metal
3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
4. Promising Young Woman
5. The Father
3. Judas and the Black Messiah
4. News of the World
5. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
1. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
3. Hillbilly Elegy
Best Production Design
3. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
4. News of the World
5. The Father
Best Visual Effects*
2. Love and Monsters
3. The Midnight Sky
4. Mulan, Sean Faden,
5. The One and Only Ivan
*No clue. No Best Picture nominees. But Tenet is the only one with both Prod and VFX.
Best Documentary Feature
1. Crip Camp
3. My Octopus Teacher
5. The Mole Agent
Best Animated Feature Film
4. Over the Moon
5. Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Best International Feature Film
1. Another Round, Denmark
2. Better Days, Hong Kong
3. Collective, Romania
4. The Man Who Sold His Skin, Tunisia
5. Quo Vadis, Aida?(Bosnia and Herzegovina
Best Documentary Short Subject
1. A Love Song for Latasha
3. A Concerto Is a Conversation
4. Do Not Split
5. Hunger Ward
Best Animated Short Film
1. If Anything Happens I Love You
4. Genius Loci
Best Live Action Short Film
1. Feeling Through
2. The Letter Room
3. The Present
4. Two Distant Strangers
5. White Eye
Best Original Song
1. Speak Now, One Night in Miami
2. Fight for You, Judas and the Black Messiah
3. Hear My Voice, The Trial of the Chicago 7
4. Húsavík, Eurovision Song Contest
5. Io Si, Seen, The Life Ahead