Me Too at the Oscars
It seems like such a long time ago that my idols Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway gave the Oscar to the wrong movie, and since then I found out that Barry Jenkins isn’t gay, a year of disillusionment that at any rate had the effect of explaining away some of my Moonlight problems (see my last year’s Oscars analysis, “Cassandra at the Oscars”). Then hearing that Jenkins is making a movie out of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk had me getting some strange James Franco suspicions of Jenkins, but now I can’t use that adjective “James Franco” in quite the same way as I did even a year ago, when he was still the poster boy for—and the chief producer of—“gay cinema.” Because that was then and this is now.
The issues of today’s show business climate focus less on race and less about gay cinema, and the attention has moved on to examinations of consent violation and the casting couch. There will always be the question of, would Call Me by Your Name have been more widely admired if Armie Hammer wasn’t so darn old? But the script called for a 26-year-old grad student to be played by a thirty-something dude ever since James Franco flirted with taking the part but James Ivory said, “Oh come on now.” Anyhow the image I now recall from the Oscars 2017 telecast is not the famous picture of every star in Hollywood looking puzzled about the confusion in the stage when the Price Waterhouse guy gave Warren the wrong envelope—no, the last year’s moment most emblematic of this year’s sturm und drang was that look on the previous best actress’ face when she discovered she’d be giving Best Actor Oscar to Casey Affleck. I was like, hello Brie Larson, you knew Casey Affleck had a chance to win the award, couldn’t you have just said, “I’m sorry I can’t present this year, I’m sick. I’m busy making the sequel to Kong Skull Island. I’m just me being Brie.” But yes there she was, honoring the man whom many suspected was engaging in all sorts of sexual harassment and consent violations, but wearing that face of disapproval as though that was punishment enough. And maybe it was.
Affleck didn’t show up last night, to give the award to this year’s new best actress—shamed away I imagine. I was watching Pearl Harbor the other day, and in it Kate Beckinsale as an American nurse is torn between the two flyboy brothers Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, and Dodie said, “Are they supposed to be brothers?” And all I could think of was that Josh Hartnett would have been a nicer “real brother” for Ben than that awful Casey any day! People say that James Franco was denied an Oscar nomination for his role in The Disaster Artist because the stories about his acting school came out in exactly the same week as the Oscar ballots were being filled out. But do those Oscar committee members actually care? If so, why is the front runner now Gary Oldman? He may be the best actor alive today but one of his wives says he abused her physically and that should be enough to take him out, right? And it’s not like Darkest Hour was so terrific either. At Christmastime my sister was here and we decided to go to as many movies as possible. “Oh look here’s a whole movie about Churchill, who was so good in The Crown on Netflix!” We went in, and it was Gary Oldman and not the Churchill from The Crown. Didn’t look like Gary Oldman either, but dull, dull, dull! And yet that’s what they’re awarding him for, because he didn’t look like Gary Oldman! First I fell asleep ten minutes in, then my sister, and then Dodie missed the last half of the show entirely and we had to explain to her that it involved Dunkirk. “No way,” said she, since we had just seen Dunkirk on the plane and both Gary Oldman and John Lithgow took the day off for that one. I have a fondness for the reprobate Churchill since he won me my first award. I was born in a New York hospital on the wintry day when Churchill came to New York, so they had a contest in the maternity wards to find the newborn who most resembled Churchill and they put me on page five of the Daily News. Slow news day, but for me, it meant everything, everything, what an honor.
But you don’t have to be a Gary Oldman to abuse women, or lure teenage boys to your underground pool suite where opioid salve will garnish their canapes. You don’t have to act at all, you can be a producer—or a newsman—or a chef—or a celebrated artist or photographer. If you’re Ryan Seacrest, the stakes are especially high and nobody saw that coming, that’s for sure! At my office they were saying that Seacrest is thanking his lucky stars that his stylist is making those accusations because it indicates his sex preference is for a woman. By this logic, he should be paying her, and no matter what the court says, he’ll be paying her either way. But I remember during the early days of American Idol it wasn’t just Ryan Seacrest, it was him and another more clownish looking boy, Brian Dunkleman, and Ryan was always joining Simon in mocking poor Brian’s dumb nonchalance, and after a few months he was gone, they didn’t even say why. The other night I sat here at home with two friends whose work I admire, and we were talking about how gay ways are different than straight ones. “It’s one thing if you’re Kevin Spacey and you molest a tween,” said Brian. “But gay sex is so multivalent it would be tough to argue, with a straight face, that you’d been ‘interfered with.’” But for a moment the three of us sat in silence—wondering? I expect that all men, young and old, gay and straight, even before the recent activist movements like #TimesUp and #MeToo, have always been afraid that one day what we did will catch up to us. Maybe one thing, that anomaly among all the kind, decent, or neutral things we did in life. Maybe just that one thing; or a whole pattern of things that we just don’t talk about much. Our shoulders are always twitching in the certainty that one day we’ll feel the tap on them. That’s the common experience of men and you’d think after all this time we would learn, like Pavlov’s dogs, not to yearn for the thing that to do would be cruel, but how can we, it’s what turns us on. We agreed that it would be hard to ever have sex if one never showed the teeniest bit of aggression.
Fox News is reporting Ryan Seacrest’s red carpet activity a success since “A-list top stars” like Christopher Plummer, Allison Janney, Richard Jenkins, and Taraji P. Henson stopped to speak with him and talk about their nominations or outfits, et cetera. Rita Moreno, Gael Garcia Bernal, Common, Tiffany Hadish and Kelly Ripa stopped by too, while Mary J. Blige defended him before the world, saying that he was fighting for his life. We can scoff at the puny list, but Allison Janney actually manifested a little bit of Seacrest luck when she later won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Watching the Oscars at our party, we kept hooting for our favorites and wondering who “Ansel Elgort” was and forking potstickers. Then we’d stop and look and they had Christopher Walken giving out the award for film scoring—this not six weeks after sheriffs have announced a person of interest in the 1981 Natalie Wood drowning case. Walken was on that boat; he knows what happened. Thousands of dancers and actors and Oscar winners to choose from and they could have picked anyone but the one man who knows the darkest secret in Hollywood history?
Oh, they had the worst Jimmy Kimmel stunt ever, when he took a party of Oscar notables to a nearby movie house and confronted a pack of movie goers primed to see a sneak of Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time. In came the young and the lovely, Margot Robbie, Gil Gadot; in came the ever ready—like Lin Manuel Miranda, the type of guy my mom used to say would “show up at the opening of an envelope.” The stars distributed theater snacks such as hot dogs to these lucky people, people who represented the audiences who still go to movie theaters, those for whom the wealthy people make the movies. The stunt failed, conceptually and literally, for not one of the moviegoers seemed surprised or delighted. Either they were all in on the act already, or more likely, it was because they were all citizens of Hollywood and probably had already spotted all the stars they cared to in their ordinary lives. Conceivably each of them had opened an envelope sometime in their lives and Lin-Manuel Miranda had showed up to cheer them on. Ansel Elgort too.
And talk about #Oscars So White! After the fire of #MeToo, the Academy did not have Casey Affleck give away the best actress award, and instead they brought out Jennifer Lawrence and Jodie Foster; for the best actor, they did not bring out Emma Stone, last year’s best actress winner (who had already given out the best director award from some reason), but instead had Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda. A great quartet of actresses appeared but no people of color? Why, why, why? At our party someone explained that the criteria for these four actresses had to have been that in the past each had won one or more Best Actress trophies themselves. If that’s so, they should have studied their Oscar charts more thoroughly and remembered that there will always be Halle Berry, still after all these years the only black women to win best actress. Halle Berry, the wonderful star of so many great classics, most recently reduced to acting in Kidnap, the story of what one young black mother will do when drug dealing gang members kidnap her little son out of her car. If I had just seen Halle Berry giving out the best actor award last night, I could still believe that Hollywood cared about people of color and being all inclusive. We did learn that Jodie Foster gave Jennifer Lawrence one of her first roles at age 19, so that explains a lot. Jodie Foster—another of my favorites—is a complete reason to go to see a movie, but not when she’s directing them, I don’t think. You can’t be great at everything. She was on crutches for a reason too.
And yes, Gary Oldman won. His wife Gisele cooed love to him from her seat, and his former wife, actress Lesley Manville (nominated for her role as Daniel Day Lewis’ sister in Phantom Thread) lost in her own category but looked chipper enough at the after Oscar show parties. The wife who accused Gary Oldman of attacking her with a phone was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Oldman’s other other ex-wife, actress Uma Thurman, who is probably sitting at home writing her memoirs of how was it she became intimate with all the worst bullies in Hollywood. In Vanity Fair, Terry Gilliam noted, “She seemed to be drawn to difficult people—maybe she was trying to prove something—and had somehow aged overnight, lost her youth, which she has since regained.” The guests at our Oscars party were so young they didn’t even remember when Gary Oldman and Uma Thurman were involved. And I’m all like, “Wasn’t Eva Marie Saint so wonderful in North by Northwest?” Oscar is ninety this year and to celebrate they brought out a few ninety-year-old stars. People stood up for Eva Marie Saint, but they gave Oscars to Gary Oldman and Kobe Bryant, so nothing really has changed except the traffic signals. But I’m still radiating with hope after hearing Audra Day and Common singing that song from the Thurgood Marshall biopic, with ten living legend activists standing beside them. I cried then, and let’s see, when Eddie Vedder sang that In Memoriam song and we realized he was the last of his kind—like Ishi among the California Indian tribes.
And oh, how could they omit Dorothy Malone from the In Memoriam tribute and keep eulogizing all these casting agents and cost accountants? Dorothy Malone and John Gavin!—the last of the Douglas Sirk stars, or am I forgetting somebody in this era of accounting and recounting, accusing, and ignoring?