If the Oscars weren’t relevant, they wouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t talk about them. We wouldn’t watch the broadcast. E! wouldn’t dedicate exhaustive coverage to the ceremony before, during, and after. We wouldn’t offer up our opinions. We wouldn’t be disappointed when our favorites are overlooked. Certainly, the Oscars are irrelevant to many people but they are relevant to me. Why? I love movies. I love the idea of Hollywood. I love what lurks beneath that idea. I love the idea that excellence can be rewarded.
I want to write movies. I will write movies. I want to know there is no limit to the potential of a movie I write. I want to know I can write parts for people with brown skin or unruly bodies or thick accents or breasts and know that people will recognize the importance of the stories those people have to tell. We don’t write to win awards or nominations but no one wants to write into a culture where our stories will never be recognized as excellent when they are told in excellent ways. No one wants to be encouraged to grow, but only so far as to reach an obdurate glass ceiling, and no farther.
There is a pithy shorthand that emerges every awards season about who was “snubbed” or overlooked. Sometimes, this shorthand is used appropriately, sometimes it is not. However, when you look at every single category and see only white people being rewarded, something has been snubbed.
I will also note that it is interesting that many people are overlooking the fact that there is one tiny spot of color–the writer and director of Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is Mexican.
I don’t begrudge the nominees of any of the categories though there is one Best Picture nominee, The Grand Budapest Hotel, that makes me shake my head, simply because it isn’t my kind of movie. It is frustrating, though, particularly in looking at the Best Picture nominees, to see what kind of story is resonating with Academy voters. With the exception of Selma, these are movies about white men coming of age, coping with old age, coping with genius, coping with a strong mind but frail body, coping with the burdens of patriotism and duty, and on and on.
These stories deserve to be told but they are not the only stories that deserve to be told. This is what we continually lose sight of. And in Selma, which is an outstanding movie, we see, yet again, the kind of story Academy voters are comfortable with when it comes to people of color–always about the history, about the struggle. Where is the Birdman for an aging Asian actress? Where is Girlhood, ambitiously chronicled over a number of years? Where is the twee movie shot in highly saturated color about a woman working as a hotel concierge? These stories exist and if they don’t they have the potential to exist, if there were more opportunities available. There would be more opportunities available if when these stories were made, and made well, they were recognized because then studios would be more inclined to support similar work. It’s a vicious cycle that could be a lot less vicious if the right people stuck their necks out.
Roxane Gay is the editor of The Butter.