Oscars 2016: The Year of the Boycott

Kevin Killian



Again another lousy year for Oscar fans, for the shame of the all-white casting couches is reducing our once solid enthusiasm like the sun trained on an icicle.

Spike Lee won the honorary Oscar award this year, though his newest film Chi-Raq, got zip from the Academy. So many nominations he should have had over the years, and I’m not even a 100 percent-er for Spike Lee. This year he didn’t even go to the Oscars—though he attended the dinner last November where they now hand out the honorary awards, the ones that used to mean something: the Oscars for Lifetime Achievement and for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian prize. In fact, Lee has never been nominated for Best Director (of his two nominations, one was for writing Do the Right Thing, and the other for best documentary, 4 Little Girls, his unsparing portrait of the racist culture of 1960s Birmingham and the murdered schoolgirls who paid the ultimate price there). In November, at the Governors Dinner, Lee was presented his award by three of his stars, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, and Samuel Jackson.

In the meantime, those in the know for Oscar predictions always go behind the scoop to the scandal on the dilettante’s web site AGC Blind Items:

This could be the worst idea ever, or work out really well. Apparently the talk being bandied about for this weekend is that the Best Picture Academy Award is going to be presented by a trio of legendary women who have each won an Oscar. I think it is a long shot. I’m not sure you could even sober up one of them long enough for her to be a part. Jane Fonda/Barbra Streisand/Liza Minnelli/Diane Keaton/Sally Field/Shirley MacLaine

As we know this didn’t happen, and the Best Picture award was presented by one of those black superstars flouting Jada Pinkett Smith’s boycott—Morgan Freeman. What happened to the idea of a trio of Oscar-winning women? A pipedream I suppose! Or did Charlotte Rampling’s ill-advised race comments infect the Academy’s perception of a whole platoon of women her age free to speak their minds live on TV to an audience of nine hundred million people? What might they have said? Why was Debbie Reynolds so mysteriously missing from accepting the highest honor in the land? Did somebody powerful in the medical industry “sick” her that day in November? Tsk tsk, the unsinkable Debbie Reynolds, mouth shut at last.

After about half an hour of trying to decide which trio we would like to see out of the six names listed, we gave up for none sounded that formidable. (Mine would not have included Diane Keaton in it, no way no how!) Add to this the disappointment of not being able to see Anonhi (formerly Antony Hegarty), with her new identity and name, sing her Oscar-nominated song from Manta Ray! It all grew sour right away. I don’t blame her for boycotting the Oscars, but alas, there went the only piece of hipster credentials that the Oscars, now in their 88th year, could possibly have offered. Well, except for Chris Rock—maybe. Chris Rock is always hilarious, and I remember thinking in 2005 they had found their perfect host, who they could invite back every year. His bit in the 2005 monologue when he pretended never to have heard the name of Jude Law, but recognized him from “every movie I have seen the last four years? He’s in everything. Even the movies he’s not acting in if you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something” was stunning, and provoked a stiff reaction from Sean Penn who got up to complain onstage that “forgive my lack of humor, but Jude Law is one of our most talented actors.” Jude Law under erasure brought out all Sean Penn’s worst traits, but that’s white privilege for you I guess. Now that I think on it, you don’t see Jude Law half as much as one used to in 2005. Trying to think of today’s equivalent—someone in the credits of every movie—I guess it would be Mark Ruffalo? Or who do you think? Tonight, Chris Rock made Kevin Hart the fall guy for his 2005 joke updated, claiming that Kevin Hart made a new movie once a month! Perhaps it’s true.

I guess the thing was that even in 2005, a quarter of the nominees were people of color, and two of them (Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles and Morgan Freeman as Hilary Swank’s coach in the boxing drama Million Dollar Baby) actually won, so what a regression! I find myself taking it out on the otherwise OK movies I’ve watched to get ready for this telecast—The Witch for example: where are the people of color? Even the titular witch herself seems like an old fat white woman. Where are the Indians? It’s supposed to be colonial America. We saw Spotlight and noticed one black cop in the movie, apologizing for not having gone hard enough on pedophile priests. Well, Spotlight seems particularly ahistorical, doesn’t it? When the World Trade Center gets attacked, that’s the first clue I had that it wasn’t supposed to be taking place now. But even in the 20th century I’m sure there were black people in Boston! And we saw Room too, and I kept thinking, well it’s just this one lady and her son, plus an evil pedophile, all of them white, and then (spoilers ahead), thank goodness, a woman of color, a police detective, cracked the case and found the room and saved the lady (Oscar-nominated Brie Larson). As you know, Larson wound up winning the Oscar and giving her little boy a high five in the rows of the Dolby Auditorium. Even her name, “Brie,” had me rolling my eyes for I couldn’t think of another whiter food to be named after. Well, maybe “Oyster.” Or “Baguette.”

I’m here to tell you, I remember Anne Bancroft winning the Oscar, and she couldn’t come, and Joan Crawford accepted it for her! That’s how many years I’ve been throwing this Oscars Party, so as you can imagine I’ve seen lame picture after lame picture win Best Picture at the Oscars, but 2016 is the lamest of all that I can remember. There’s no way Spotlight deserves any more recognition than a Lifetime Television effort on the same subject: brave reporters cracking the organized pedophiles among us. It is over two hours long without a single thirty seconds of merit in it, except maybe for Mark Ruffalo acting Portuguese for whole sentences at a time. What is he, French Canadian or Italian or something? In truth they should just stop making pictures about real life people and real life incidents. The most chilling moment of any movie is when a card slips across the screen saying “Inspired by Actual Events.” Has there ever been a good one? I think not, and yet so many have gone on to become Best Picture—Argo, The King’s Speech, Spotlight, A Beautiful Mind, Amadeus, Braveheart, Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire: filthy mind trash each and every one. So I knew going in that Spotlight would win.

Along the way I cried any number of times, like when Sam Smith quoted Ian McKellen saying that no out gay man had ever won an Oscar. He meant for acting, but logical Sam Smith had him throwing a wider net, disregarding previous Oscar wins by everyone from Stephen Sondheim to Dustin Lance Black. What does Sam Smith know of American film history? Or gay history? What does anyone know of history, period? Next year on the Oscars another gay guy will get up there and say, “Sir Ian McKellen (or the late Sir Ian McKellen) once proclaimed that no openly gay man has ever won an Oscar, but I just won this, and this one is for you, Sir Ian!” And it will happen again in 2018, 2019, et cetera, ushering in the age of Idiocracy, during which time an openly straight man will finally win the Oscar for singing the theme song for a James Bond movie for the first time, and he will thank Frodo. I, Kevin Killian, sitting on Mount Mordor in late February 2016, can see past the smoke of times to come and tell you what my screen says, and that is what it says.

I cried again when behind Lady Gaga a curtain rose and revealed the shadows of dozens of rape victims each marked up on his or her right forearm with sayings in Magic Marker: “Unbreakable,” “It Happened to Me,” “Survivor,” “You are Loved,” “Strong,” “Not Your Fault.” These survivors moved with linked arms and hands closer to Gaga’s big white piano and soon surrounded her with tears and love and appreciation, and I, for one, was moved. I cried as usual during the In Memoriam montage of stars and other Hollywood types who had died during the past year. What a parade of beloved faces, from Lizabeth Scott to Christopher Lee to Maureen O’Hara to Omar Sharif to Wes Craven and David Bowie. I did jump to what I thought were my feet when the montage showed us “Holly Woodlawn, Actor.” At first I wondered, why is Dave Grohl perched under the screen singing the lugubrious White Album Beatles standard, “Blackbird”? “Blackbird” has such precarity among those measuring white attitudes towards race in the late 1960s—it seemed false somehow, especially when I reflected that so few of those pictured were people of color—and Dave Grohl, my God—but you know, at the end of the day I let my qualms dissolve in a puddle of pure sediment, where they remain.

It may be that your favorites won, but how could that be? Could anyone possibly be happy that Mark Rylance won the Best Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies? (Did you see Mark Ruffalo begin to rise when he thought it was his name being called? I blinked and missed it, but at least two of our Oscar party saw this happen, and then they saw Ruffalo sit back down firmly, wearing a broad smile and clapping his hands so loudly you could have heard him back in Portugal.) Mark Rylance, whom very few people except the gay ever heard of as a person, place, or thing? Perhaps in fact this moment will go down in Oscar history like the famous case of Jack Palance, who, addled by drink, age, and heat, read the card wrong and told the 1993 Oscars audience that Marisa Tomei was the new Best Supporting Actress (instead of Vanessa Redgrave). The legend has it that the Academy couldn’t not stand behind their old cowpoke Palance, so they suppressed the dissent and the rumors. I was hosting an Oscars Party that evening in 1993, the evening when “A Whole New World” from Aladdin won as best song, and all of us believed that drunken slyboots Jack Palance was, indeed, pulling Marisa Tomei’s win out of his ass; so let it be predicated that Patricia Arquette just said the wrong name for reasons unknown but easily speculated on—this is Patricia Arquette, after all, the female Jack Palance in every way. Fanzine fact checkers, please determine whether or not rightful winner Ruffalo was in fact one of Arquette’s ex-husbands or scorned ex-boyfriends! Thank you, and let the party continue.

I guess I was hoping Mad Max: Fury Road would win—it is, after all, the best movie I’ve seen in years. But the way things are going in Hollywood now, I was surprised it even got nominated. I can’t wait for the Oscars 2016 episode of Bravo’s The People’s Couch to see what my favorite TV potatoes thought of, say, Chris Rock selling his daughter’s Girl Scout cookies for them on live TV and racking up a total of $65,000 or more. Or the time when he interviewed moviegoers at his favorite “urban” cinema, and none of them had ever heard of Bridge of Spies either. Or Spotlight. They were just grinning at him, suspecting him of trying to goof on them. Or when Chris Rock re-made the Best Picture nominated features by inserting black characters into them.

We have an old 21-inch TV, and whenever someone won an Oscar, an announcer used to say, “This is Leonardo DiCaprio’s seventh nomination and first win” or whatever, so you could hear it, and now they don’t do it like that any more. Instead a roll of text appears on the bottom that tells you all the people the winner wants to thank, before he or she says their names out loud. And sometimes there’s a telling disparity between what the text reads and the names the winner speaks! But anyhow on my TV you couldn’t read anything on the left or right; the Academy must assume that everyone has those modern-day wide flatscreen TVs that are 30 inches or more! They showed a scene from Room, but all we saw was the final letters: ”OM.” I close with some sad moments of ”In Memoriam,” when we really didn’t know who had died. Like one guy maybe his name was Richard but on our set it just said “CHARD.”