in movies

The stakes of this year’s Oscars

David Cox, writing for The Guardian:

It is easy to see why the Academy’s voters have embraced La La Land. Many of them will have followed a path all too similar to Seb and Mia’s. Seeing their life-choices vindicated by the witchcraft of their trade must have been something of a comfort. All the same, the best picture winners that stick in the memory, such as Schindler’s List, Gandhi, Chariots of Fire and Titanic, tend to extol humanity’s better nature, not its shortcomings.

This time round there are also films among La La Land’s doomed rivals that could make us proud of our species. Moonlight deals with love. Manchester by the Sea offers contrition. Arrival honours inquiry. Hacksaw Ridge celebrates selflessness. Any of these would be a worthier winner than Damien Chazelle’s tawdry and dispiriting confection. La La Land’s victory on Sunday night will tell us something about our era. But it will be no triumph for film-makers, filmgoers or film.

Amrou Al-Kadhi, writing for The Independent:

I’m now 26, and in my career, I’ve been sent nearing 30 scripts for which I’ve been asked to play terrorists on screen. Roles have varied from ones as meaty as “Suspicious Bearded Man on Tube” to “Muslim man who hides his bombs in a deceptive burka” […]

Stories onscreen have the rare ability to arouse empathy for diverse characters in audiences across the world, so leaving out Arab and Muslim voices in such a context of global Islamophobia is particularly damaging. With masterful directors, sublime works like Moonlight happen; now the story of gay black masculinity in the Miami ghetto has become that much more relatable and mainstream. It is my genuine belief that if the TV and film industry had been more diligent in representing Arab characters – with all our humane, complex, intersectional three-dimensionality – xenophobia would not be as pandemic as it is today.

And hence I pray that La La Land doesn’t clean up at the Oscars (as at the BAFTAs). For this would be a sign that the industry prioritises the celebration of itself first of all, self-indulgently rejoicing in its own nostalgic – and white – mythology.

As I touched on in this week’s Gen Pop, many aspects of life seem to have become proxies for other battles our culture is currently engaging in. Some people look at the Oscars race between Moonlight and La La Land and see an epic conflict between celebrating diversity and celebrating whiteness. In reality, those films are the end products of two passionate filmmakers who just wanted to tell their stories.

Thus, I’m not sure how much significance to place on who wins Best Picture this year. It’s the product of so many different variables, some of them unknowable and uncontrollable. At the same time, I can’t begrudge Al-Kadhi his own reaction; if I’d been subjected to the same treatment as him during his career, I might have a lot of hope in Moonlight this weekend too.

  • You made a film, Dave, (“The Primary Instinct”), and it’s about a white actor. Of all the topics in the world you could have chosen, you defaulted to “white Hollywood”? I’m being facetious, of course. But applying any sort of agenda to your film or your motivations is (in my opinion) as silly as someone applying them to a film like La La Land.

    La La Land didn’t have any agenda except trying to be a great movie. It’s clear from the film itself and from every interview with anyone involved with the film that the only thing driving this film was a passion to make a great, sincere Hollywood musical. And as such, it really annoys me when any sort of cultural or political agenda is grafted onto the film against its will. There’s no ‘white savior’ undertone anywhere in the film. There’s no cynical Hollywood narcissism embedded in the film. The filmmakers simply wanted to make a film that looked and sounded exactly like this, and that’s what they did. The film is 100% passion put up on the screen.

    Both La La Land and Moonlight are critique-proof in this aspect, as both films just want to be what they are. Both are the “can’t-believe-this-got-made” products of two young filmmakers who had an incredible passion for the stories they were making and didn’t give up on trying to make those dreams a reality, even though any and all data would seemingly prove that no one would want to see either movie. And both not only simply willed their films into existence, but they both made transcendent works of art to further cement their statuses as THE filmmakers to watch.

    Both films are just great films. Moonlight isn’t a great film because it’s has a socially important story about a bullied young, gay, black man finding his way in the world. It’s just a great film, beautifully told, period. I daresay Barry Jenkins next film will probably be great and it doesn’t need to be anything remotely close to this subject matter to be equally great. I hope he doesn’t feel the pressure to have to tell “socially important” films, and is allowed to make whatever film he wants next, about whatever subject matter inspires and moves him. We already know Damien Chazelle is working on a film about Neil Armstrong with no musical elements to it, and I can’t wait to see it. I’m thankful he refuses to just be the “music-oriented” guy.

    If La La Land wins every award it’s nominated for, it will be awesome. Same thing with Moonlight. Just let both films be movies. They’ve earned that right.

    • Pretty sure I made exactly this point in my post above?

      • lol. Yes. I was agreeing with you and adding my own commentary on it. Sorry if it seemed like it was contradicting you! A line where I referenced Al-Kadhi’s viewpoint got deleted at some point as I was typing, apparently. Carry on…