Film & TV

Movie Awards: So Male, So White, So What?

Leonardo DiCaprio (L), Best Actor winner for his role in “The Revenant,” and Best Director winner Alejandro G. Inarritu, also for “The Revenant,” pose at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif., February 28, 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
The hidden totalitarianism of movie-award monitors

Every year now, awards season brings out the media’s political monitors who make sure that honors are distributed according to social-justice plans.

Last week it was the turn of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) to be monitored, and this week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars) has been buffeted by similar complaints. Both institutions are accused of disrespecting and misrepresenting the work of the media’s most favored social groups — women and members of nonwhite ethnicities. The standards by which art and artists are judged has become irrelevant.

Instead of routinely pushing back against these protests, let’s pinpoint them. Following the Internet rubrics #OscarSoWhite and #OscarSoMale, each an outgrowth of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, media watchdogs take up the cause of cultural reform.

Self-righteous grumblings about snubs and omissions don’t represent a true social movement — most people feel distant and ineffectual about BAFTA and the Oscars. But Internet noise now replaces journalism’s old-time shoe-leather reporting. Media hacks repeat aggravated tweets — angry idle chatter by the powerless seeking power — the same way that political consultants nervously interpret polls, choosing vague, anonymous mobs as the source of supposedly democratic will.

When this happens the social-justice protests have no connection to the aesthetics of Greta Gerwig or Lupita Nyong’o or Eddie Murphy. Nor does protest encourage people to pay attention to under-publicized films. Rather, the grousing happens only on behalf of already over-publicized movies — the product of big studios and deep-pocket publicity firms. Tweeters and columnists don’t think about this; they pretend to respond honorably, with incisive insight. Attention-starved celebrities go along with it, and why should their publicists complain?

Fact is: This annual, unnatural occurrence is essentially political manipulation. Awards season’s monitors emulate the combined dictates of authoritarian ministries. For example, the Los Angeles Times published protests from at least four of its in-house pundits on the same day, merely demonstrating collective PC whimsies. It recalls Orwell’s prophetic Ministry of Truth overseeing media, Ministry of Peace controlling war, Ministry of Plenty controlling distribution of resources, and Ministry of Love torturing political dissidents. This predetermined consensus — backing up one another’s middlebrow fantasies about gender and ethnic equality — is what makes mainstream-media workers feel that they’re always, inarguably right.

It’s really another form of social engineering, isn’t it? The leftist media’s love of race and sex quotas prevails over any concern with quality. (I will never stop believing that Julián Hernández’s Tattoo of Revenge is superior to Little Women, or that Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell is deeper and truer than The Irishman.)

Whenever the media assert a moral position, it confirms Orwell’s fears about totalitarian ministries. This “morality” is a means of keeping people controlled — at odds and divided — while the sermonizing pundits pretend to care about fairness (Truth, Peace, Plenty, Love).

Hollywood and New York’s PC watchdogs eventually reveal their own biases, promoting Sony-sponsored Greta Gerwig over the nearly two dozen other obscure, indie women who directed films last year and ignoring an already diverse range of actors — including Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell), Tory Kittles (Dragged across Concrete), Zhao Tao (Ash Is Purest White), Sonja Sohn (High Flying Bird), and Bokeem Woodbine (Queen & Slim) — whose performances displayed politically independent and artistically bold excellence.

Eventually, by using complaint as a cultural and political weapon — a cowardly and degraded pretense of dissent — all these social-justice commentators, and the hordes who join them, merely contribute to a pinhead tradition that separates celebrities from plebes. Yet they still enjoy the taunting and derision.

Somehow, awards-season complaints never get to the politics of the dreck that does get nominated, whether The Irishman, which ignores facts of American history and the intricacies of the labor movement; Parasite, which romanticizes economic revolution; The Two Popes, which demeans Christian faith; Marriage Story, which defrauds both the sacred and the secular nature of marital vows; Bombshell, which devolves into superficial media hyperbole; or Jojo Rabbit, which shamelessly exploits the Holocaust.

As critic Gregory Solman stated, “the Oscars never represented meritocratic achievement; we only feel that way on those rare occasions when films we favor win.” But when that doesn’t happen, awards grumblers conflate merit with their personal preferences being forced on society

We should be able to regard awards season as folly, amused by the industry en déshabillé, a brazen strip show of its fickle standards. Instead, it’s another opportunity for the media to hijack public behavior and attitudes, once again lowering art to propaganda.

Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

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