Okay, this is the rantiest rant I’ve written in a long time. But the reaction to this year’s Oscars – or rather, to the slap that overshadowed this year’s Oscars – needs to be addressed.
You know how the other day a male actor slapped a male comedian at some awards show and then the whole world decided this was the only story in the universe?
I can’t believe I’m doing this. But, well, I want to talk about that.
No, not the slap itself. I don’t care to evaluate performative violence. I’m not here to judge the joke, or the reaction, or the state of mind of any of the participants.
I want to talk about us.
Blinded By The Slap
The Academy Awards have been subject to criticism recently. For being too white, too elitist, too old-fashioned and too US-centric, the once unassailable Oscars have been under attack. It took them too long to respond, but respond they have.
This year, the awards celebrated stories that championed all sorts of diversity and answered almost all the recent criticism. And the ceremony itself had moments of touching humanity.
But all the attention – and I do mean ALL THE ATTENTION – was on the slap.
Did we talk about deafness and disability, the plight of the working class, the role of women, prejudice around sexual identity, aging, or grief and loss, the struggle to define ourselves in this confusing time, or any of the other themes explored in this year’s surprisingly great crop of films?
No. We made memes and jokes and embarked on endless hot takes about the meaning of the slap.
But what if the slap didn’t mean anything at all? What if the real story was how quick we were to focus all our attention on it, rather than everything else that was going on?
Let’s Talk About Films For A Moment
CODA won this year’s best film. It’s a worthy winner. CODA has a moment that is so full of surprising drama and emotion that, on first viewing, I couldn’t breathe. This is a film with a lot to say that speaks in a subtle and beautiful way.
And like so many of the films that won this year, it wasn’t a big-budget, tent-pole film or part of a larger franchise.
Belfast, Drive My Car, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The Power of the Dog… these are the kinds of films we worried might not have a future in a world where cinemas are under increasing financial pressure and studios constantly mine existing intellectual property and endlessly reboot old films.
This was a year to fall in love with cinema again.
Great films live long in your memory. They inspire meaningful conversations. Seeing these sorts of films is like seeing a great work of art, or visiting a place of stunning natural beauty, the sort of experience that marks your soul in such a way that when you meet someone who shared that experience, you don’t even need to talk about it because you recognise it in each other.
We Were All Slapped
The Monday after the Oscars, I felt flat. It was the kind of feeling you get when someone cancels on you at the last minute. I was ready to play my small part in a conversation, with friends, and the great online commentariat, about the films that won and what they meant to us.
There were conversations to be had about disability, grief, joy, the plight of the working class, feminism, sexual identity, what makes a well-told story so satisfying, and how great films can affirm our humanity.
Instead, we got the slap.
Worse than the asinine memes were the anodyne opinion pieces. Many criticized the act. Some tried to justify it. In an era when bad ideas like book-burning and eugenics are making a comeback, it’s not surprising to hear people argue for a return to chivalry.
There’s a famous Australian novel called The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas. It was made into a TV series. Not once, but twice. That story also centres on an act of performative violence: a slap. But also the repercussions of that slap. Everyone saw it, but no one agrees on its significance, or how to respond.
This week we had a global slap. It showed how shallow and distractable our culture can be.
But it also showed how willing we were to talk about anything but films that centred on the experience of people with disabilities, or the experience of women, or the working class.
This year’s Oscars had great art on display. We just weren’t grown up enough to acknowledge it.