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Oscar Humbug

Of course I didn’t stay up to watch the Oscars.  What kind of a person do you take me for?  Oscars?  Humbug!

I indulged instead, as I do every year without fail, in the sensible alternative of going to bed for a good night’s sleep.  It felt infinitely more rewarding this morning than having spent a mind-emptying three-and-a-half wee small hours watching Hollywood engage in its annual inarticulate orgy of ill-merited self-congratulation.

This year, in addition to my perennial reasons for not watching the show – too numerous and familiar to bear repeating here – there was my failure to see any of the films nominated.  That was the case last year, too.   The lacuna is easily explained: I no longer go out to see pictures.

One reason is sheer inertia.  Another is that television has for some time been producing better stuff than films.  (Like Alan Bennett, I’m reluctant, almost incapable, of saying ‘movies’.)  I could mention a third, which is that my local cinema has been sold by the Odeon to the Everyman chain, which has installed sofas and tables for the comfort of the audience and now serves food and wine – and doubled the price of a ticket in the process.

None of this year’s films sounded terribly appetising anyway.  Least of all The Revenant, the winner of the Best Actor award, which tells, apparently in the most graphic way imaginable, of a man’s fight for survival in a northern wilderness.

No thank you, even if the star Leonardo di Caprio did, as widely predicted, win the Oscar, I suspect a clear case of Buggin’s turn, admittedly an Academy tradition.

This year, adding political piquancy to self-love, and yet another reason not to watch the show, was the allegation of racism.

Hollywood racist?   The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences racist?

Both are.  Not consciously, of course, but with a membership that is ninety-four percent white – even if it is ninety-four per cent liberal – the Academy in demographic terms alone offers an unlikely institution for promoting social causes related to race.  This year, the ultra-white albeit socially progressive Academy failed to nominate a single black person in any category.  The same was true last year.

To paraphrase Wilde, to ignore black candidates one year may be regarded as misfortune; to ignore them a second time looks like carelessness.

You can bet your bottom dollar, however, that next year’s ceremony will be peppered, possibly swamped, with dozens of black contenders.  Hollywood is nothing if not sensitive to public opinion.  It always has been.  Back in the 1950s, during the McCarthy era, the film bosses and their acolytes in the acting profession went overboard in alleging the infiltration of the industry by communists.  The cause was unworthy, and ultimately absurd, but the industry was pushed in that direction by the perception that the resulting witch-hunt accurately reflected influential public opinion.  For public opinion read Box Office.  The cause this time around qualifies as worthy, but the response will again be social genuflection.

I hear contrary muttering about Sydney Poitier and Denzel Washington and Will Smith and Halle Berry – all Oscar-winners and box-office champions in their day.   Well, the essential phrase here is ‘in their day’.  Their day was ‘then’ and this is ‘now’.

In that context, by the way, Chris Rock, the black comedian who hosted the Oscars last night, mentioned an interesting statistic.  Of the eighty-eight Oscar ceremonies to date, seventy-one have failed to feature a black nominee.  The phrase ‘institutional racism’ – a charge levelled at the Metropolitan Police a few years ago –comes to mind.

Rock, it seems, electrified the show with his opening monologue, haranguing the Academy members on the question of race.  His most telling point was when he explained why Hollywood hadn’t been subjected to black protests in years gone by.  He said: “When your grandmother is hanging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short”.

Attaboy, Chris!

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