On Feb. 24, the 91st Academy Awards will be happening in the heart of Hollywood at the Dolby Theater. What makes this Oscars so interesting is the way in which the Academy producers have tried make the awards apolitical, yet the films nominated and the behind-the-scenes backstabbing has created a political mess that no one can clean up.
There are eight fantastic films going for the Best Picture accolade, with Roma, the story of a maid in Mexico during the 1970s, is leading the pack, winning Best Director at the Director’s Guild Awards and Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes. The film is also being seen as the anti-Trump film, as it humanizes the same people President Donald Trump sees as the perpetrators of a “national emergency.”
“This bunch of Mexicans are not as bad as sometimes they are portrayed,” director Alfonso Cuaron said after winning an award at the Critic’s Choice Awards.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote a strong think piece about the politics of Roma. Yet, the article never mentions Trump as the political cornerstone. Instead, the article talks about how the Mexican middle-class was complacent during a time of revolution.
“Roma is set in the final years of the so-called Mexican Miracle, a decades-long period of strong economic growth that saw the ascent of middle-class families [. . .] ‘Roma shows how much the middle classes were complicit with a deeply unequal system,’ says Mauricio Tenorio, director of the Katz Center for Mexican Studies at the University of Chicago, ‘how quiet and tamed and obedient we were.’ “
While I’m sure Cuaron wanted to make a personal film, he sees how Hollywood loves a good political message, even if it’s not the main goal.
Maybe that’s why it explains the success of Adam McKay’s divisive film about Dick Cheney called Vice. In fact, McKay is blatant in the point of his ambitious film: “Donald Trump got elected, and all of a sudden we started hearing people say, ‘Hey, I kinda miss George W. Bush. He wasn’t that bad, him and Cheney.’ And I really felt like I had to make the movie. I was like, ‘This is crazy that people are saying this.’ ”
The film Vice currently sits at 66 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, signaling that even if the critics agreed with McKay’s politics, they found the film to be underwhelming. Yet, the film received nominations in most of the major categories. It appears the Academy members are turning away from awarding anti-fascism 20th century war films to modern anti-fascism political films.
Meanwhile, a brutal smear campaign has really hurt the Producers Guild and Golden Globe winner Green Book from becoming the big winner. Smear campaigns aren’t new, but after Green Book’s string of good luck, the attacks ranged from historical inaccuracies to the writer being a retweeter of Donald Trump.
Nick Vallelonga, the writer of Green Book, had to apologize because of a 2015 tweet agreeing with Trump that Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attack in New York.
While the tweet was stupid, his association with Trump is what’s really hurting the films chances. Therefore, while the reviews were great, the film is hurt by a random political affiliation, and not it’s artistic style.
Then there is Sean Penn, a very political voice, coming to the defense of Bradley Cooper’s film A Star is Born because it’s not political in any way, and therefore not getting as many awards. Penn writes: “Its art neither panders to the politics of the day, nor dazzles with the deceptions so many delight in. It’s the hard-messy stuff of love and life, of dreams and addictions, and yet we, its audience, walk away feeling less alone.” Yet without a political bend, its chances are hurt.
While each of these films has interesting points of view, what we see is how art is being awarded more for its politics than its artistic merits. Jordan Peterson argues that when art gets political, it ceases being art and becomes propaganda.
Maybe that’s why Black Panther is so good, and my pick for Best Picture. While there are political undertones, that’s not the point, and therefore the film succeeds not because it tells us how to think but, as great art really does, gives us the catalyst in which to start thinking for ourselves.