Selma was nominated for Best Picture, but star David Oyelowo was not nominated for Best Actor, and Ava DuVernay was not nominated for Best Director, so obviously the 87th Academy Awards were hideously racist.
That is, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that nominated for the same category Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1967 and Mississippi Burning in 1988, and that in the past few years has awarded the night’s biggest prize to Crash, Slumdog Millionaire, and 12 Years a Slave, is an institution dedicated to protecting the social superiority of sour-cream whiteness.
The American political Right has come to expect that Hollywood’s annual excess of self-congratulation will, as a matter of course, feature intermittent exhibitions of tired left-wing politics. Glamorous multimillionaires who win top honors in the most glamorous profession in America then transform stage into soapbox to complain about [insert faddish societal injustice]. So it was little surprise when Patricia Arquette took the occasion of her Best Supporting Actress victory Sunday evening to tout the need for wage equality: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” Backstage, she expanded: “It’s time for women in America and all the men, all the gay men, the people of color, to fight for us now.”
Set aside its historical illiteracy and generally sanctimonious air: Arquette’s comment was not much to get riled up about, and conservatives merely rolled their eyes.
But the remarks earned a fierce response from various quarters on the left, which knocked Arquette for what was evidently a basic ideological failure: “Patricia’s comments show the danger in not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing,” tweeted Tracy Clayton, a staff writer at Buzzfeed. “Women of color get erased.” Who is hip to “intersectionality”? A not insignificant number of Twitter users, apparently, who made sure to pile on.
But what, exactly, was her sin?
Let Andrea Grimes explain. In “Patricia Arquette’s Spectacular Intersectionality Fail,” posted on Monday to RH Reality Check, an extreme “reproductive rights” website, Grimes criticized Arquette’s backstage comments for “eras[ing] gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities.” Arquette’s transgression was her insensitivity to the hierarchy of disadvantage that is revealed when one considers various “intersections” of identity: non-white woman, non-straight woman, non-white non-straight woman. Grimes encouraged “white women” not to “go all ‘Je Suis Patricia Arquette,’” since the actress had revealed her insufficiently developed sense of the evils of privilege.
What she in fact revealed was that she is insufficiently left-wing for a chunk of the Left.
Something similar happened to — who knew this was possible? — Sean Penn. Presenting the evening’s Best Picture award to Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu, from Mexico, Penn joked, “Who gave this son of a bitch a green card?”
“Great job Sean Penn,” tweeted Saved By the Bell star Mario Lopez. “Ruining a fantastic moment with a green card ‘joke.’” “#OscarsSoWhite A Director can’t accept an Oscar without being the butt of a racist joke,” tweeted Mic staff writer Derrick Clifton, using the “#OscarsSoWhite” hashtag that gained purchase after the Selma director nominations “snub.” Clifton again: “Even when people of color get awarded by mainstream industry orgs, racist ignorance often overshadows their achievements.”
It did not matter that Iñárritu immediately said that he found the joke “hilarious.” Penn — the Sean Penn who pals around with Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, and who was crowned Best Actor for his hagiographic portrayal of gay-rights activist Harvey Milk — “othered” Iñárritu, and proved that he, too, is insufficiently left-wing for a part of the Left.
And Neil Patrick Harris, the evening’s host, was a subject of scolding from beginning to end. Reviewing the night’s “best” and “worst” moments, Rolling Stone included Harris’s opening joke — “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, I mean brightest.” — as among the worst. Why? Because when “The Help’s Octavia Spencer was practically treated like help” during her part in a gag, “and David Oyelowo was drafted into a joke that insulted the Annie reboot starring Quvenzhané Wallis” (that is, an Annie that featured a black lead), Harris showed how hollow the original joke had been. “If it was an attempt to make the proceedings more inclusive, it was at best tone-deaf,” wrote Rolling Stone. “This is just yet another reason why the Academy needs to do a better job of acknowledging and honoring diversity.”
Of course, when it comes to “acknowledging and honoring diversity,” Hollywood ranks behind only Oberlin and Vassar and the other mass therapy sessions masquerading as institutions of learning. The seemingly desperate need of so many in the film industry to play the part of social warrior is forever pushing them to back the latest cause, whether it be wage equality or racial equality or the boycott-divestment-and-sanctions movement.
But the idea of Progress that animates modern liberalism knows no bounds. Things can always grow more “equal” or more “just.” There is always more to be done. And the consequences of that progressivism were on display Sunday night, as genuine left-wingers — Arquette and Penn, and assuredly the Academy at large — fell victim to a faction pushing onward, leftward. Progressivism is a steamroller on your heels, and either you keep pace or you get crushed.
The Left has always envisioned streets of gold. Who would have guessed, though, that they would be paved with Oscar statuettes?
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.