The Oscars ceremony is a farce in which the industry claims to award films, a euphemism for what it really is: endless propaganda with which the Academy rewards itself, revealing to the public how Hollywood makes the world a better place.
But for the Academy, the concepts of “world” and “better” are flexible and determined, varying from year to year. If Russia invades a country, an anti-war film is awarded; if the US’s interventionist approach prevails in the name of freedom, democracy, and human rights, inclusivity becomes suspect and “the Other” a dark and threatening figure. Top Gun: Maverick premiered in the wrong year.
Everything Everywhere at All Once is a good, but not excellent, film. It is also produced by A24, the studio that is saving Hollywood from its creative coma and the autism of franchises, remakes, and reboots. It’s a hallucinatory trip about the importance of tolerance, acceptance, and kindness.
The problem is the nomenclature: “Oscar for Best…” If cinema started as a fairground spectacle, it was eventually considered an art form. Tár or The Banshees of Inisherin are films, while Everything is entertainment with a message. It’s the difference between seeking forms that speak to the complexity of the world and human beings and forms that simplify it to find a hygienic formula for happiness.
The world has become a virtual police station, and mathematics a popular art: how many African Americans, women, Asians, disabled people, Latinos, and gays are in every bit of every film. The Academy has assimilated to this zeitgeist. The problem is that many do not know how to look. Any cinephile knows that in a good film, you don’t see African Americans, women, Asians, etc. You see people. The human factor is what bleeds on the screen. The minority to which they belong may be the core of the plot, but it is inconsequential compared to what the characters say, think, and feel.
Elevating or condemning a film based on the diversity it proposes is another form of discrimination, a way to justify the compulsion to feel offended.
Asia, mon amour
Everything Everywhere all at Once es the version of a minority filtered through a part of the United States that did not vote for Trump. Asia has one of the most powerful, complex, and aesthetically accomplished cinema industries in the world. Do any of the serial cancelers know Wong Kar-wai, Park Chan-wook, Kyshoshi Kurosowa, Tsai Ming-liang, Nubuhiro Suwa, Apichatpong Weerasethakul? Or do they not reflect what it means to be discriminated against for being Asian but rather what it means to be Asian? Do they only know Parasite and Squid Game?
This is Hollywood’s version of inclusion, transformed into the global collective unconscious, American soft power at its full potential: its ability to colonize subjectivity. With yesterday’s ceremony, Hollywood once again put on its own masturbatory ritual, its way of congratulating itself on being so inclusive, as in other years – rather, the post-9/11 decade – they congratulated themselves on being so patriotic, so violent, for eliminating the Muslim scum from the world.
On Sunday, before the voting closed, Michelle Yeoh posted an article on Instagram saying that she should be given the Oscar because Cate Blanchett already had two. Would that not be a kind of Pity Oscar? Does winning two Oscars previously make her unworthy of the Best Actress award in 2023? Surely Yeoh deserves good things as a person, but this is about the best work of the year, not belonging to historically discriminated sectors of society.
Of course, merits are debatable. Blanchett’s performance is a monument to acting that reflects an inner world that is breaking down due to her own mistakes and her superiority complex. Yeoh’s role in Everything is made under the concept of the film, a distorting mirror of the world, with saturated and hyperbolic characters. We love her, but Best Actress is another thing. We also adore the great Jamie Lee Curtis, the ultimate final girl, but her performance in Halloween Ends deserved more recognition.
Blanchett could have lost, but with performances that were on par with hers, like Ana de Armas in Blonde or Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie. Two anthological and heartbreaking performances about broken women on the edge of their physical and mental limits. Ana de Armas’s performance is an emotional Via Crucis of one of the most important pop culture figures in history; Riseborough’s performance turns a very indie film into a tour de force through the abysses of reason as an alcoholic mother. Two roles of extreme physical and mental demands that uniquely depict Marilyn struggle against the world and Leslie against themselve.
So what did All Quiet on the Western Front win?
It’s not just cinema-memory:Argentina, 1985 is an excellent film with a thriller pulse that captures the saturated atmosphere of an era, the ghost threat of the military that translates into an inconcrete terror that persists in the country, and materializes over the existence of prosecutor Julio Strassera, his family, and his collaborators. Winner of the international awards circuit, including the Golden Globe and except for the British BAFTA, it seemed a firm candidate.
The true rival of Santiago Mitre’s film was the Irish film The Quiet Girl, a cruel and tender wonder about emotional care seen through an unloved girl. All Quiet on the Western Front is a technical prodigy with an anti-war message in times when others wage war. But it is far from a masterpiece, even light years away from the best war films – Massacre, Come and See, Paths of Glory, Apocalypse Now, The Thin Red Line, Rome, Open City, The Battle of Algiers, The Big Red One –.
Director Edward Berger studied the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, stretched it out for two hours, and added a speech that is somehow subliminally contrary to the way the United States reflects its conflicts, that is, as a factory of heroes fighting for a fairer world.
In All Quiet on the Western Front, war is the assisted and mandatory suicide of millions of young people decreed in the name of the Kaiser, God, and Country. There is no epic, there is pathos. There is no fight between good and evil but rather a senseless homicidal hysteria.
After a cold reception at the Toronto Film Festival, Netflix changed its strategy – betting everything on winning Best Picture with Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio – taking advantage of the world’s anti-Russian climate to launch a massive campaign for the film. What Hollywood rewarded was not the quality of its story, but rather it chose a fiction and a documentary – Navalny, about the Russian political prisoner – that complement each other, not as a call for lasting peace among nations, but as a way of making the enemy visible and condemnable. The problem is not the war – as it should be – but who is waging it.
Hollywood, Guardians of the Galaxy
It’s not new that the industry takes its social function very seriously. The 1943 Writers Congress – in the midst of World War II – brought together hundreds of creators at the University of California. Darryl Zanuck – the top executive producer at Twentieth Century Fox – led the panel on the Industry’s Responsibility: “We must use the cinema to realistically address the causes of wars and hysteria, social uprisings, recessions, famines, injustices and barbarisms suffered under any regime.” He forgot to say: except our own.
Four years later, with fascism defeated, Zanuck produced The Iron Curtain and initiated Hollywood’s public intervention in the Cold War, while the most prominent names in the Congress were added to blacklists or jailed for their political beliefs.
The dream factory began to manufacture reality and maintained an active role until now, swayed by global geopolitical whims. In 2023, without a direct enemy, yesterday’s ceremony ratified Putin’s unquestionable barbarity while giving a celebratory image of diversity. Along the way, films, talent, and the best were left behind.
Any discrimination is an injustice, even one with good intentions.