Boasting Dreams much like its greedy stepfather, California has lost its luster, its beatnik cultural promise. Once more, the (not so) newfangled, star-spangled New World has squeezed the juice from the Big Orange, guzzling the individual from individualism, the art from the artist.
I do not mean to suggest the Orange is empty — it is plentiful, almost prolific; I simply mean to understand the narrowness of the straw through which the nation drains the vibrancy, the (literal and figurative) color from the fruit. As one of Los Angeles’s oldest and certainly most-defining art form, film falls short, stuck in time, sucked straight into the overweight belly of the American beast, failing to represent the melting pot within its Hollywood Hills.
Cinema, in its appeal to a nation obsessed with imaginations other than its own, is integral to the definition of values, of culture, of hopes, of fears, (of propaganda) in today’s day and age but also in history. America loves repeating itself. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But the system is broken, and we must fix it. So why don’t we?
Do we not see the homogeneity perpetuated by white culture through popular film? Through its judgement? Through its awarding? We wonder why history repeats itself when we eternalize the same values, the same culture, the same hopes, the same fears, the same propaganda through the films we all know and love. So again, why don’t we fix the system? It is comfortable. It is safe. It is profitable. It is strategic. Essentially, we are the victims of our own creation, manifesting this sameness we manifest in cinema.
The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences knows the industry well, making them “fit” for the job of deciding America’s “best” films, tailoring the American opinion of that year. But given the demographics of the group (predominantly older, white, straight, and male), I cannot say that they, collectively, can make such influential decisions on behalf of this nation.
I’d like to thank the Academy for releasing nomination lists with nearly and sometimes completely one-toned, vanilla-centric, all-white casts, for freezing America in time, and for bolstering ideologies and images that do not and never did represent the entire American population.
Now I do not mean to pin the blame solely on the Academy; there are a multitude of parties, perspectives, and influences at play here, and steps have been taken to reform the system; Cheryl Boone Isaacs was elected the first African-American president of the Academy, Chris Rock hosted the Oscars, and Moonlight was awarded Best Picture.
But were these steps only taken in response to backlash, confrontation, #OscarsSoWhite bad press? These steps question the Academy’s motives, their merit. One cannot help but wonder: are these token victories? A political maneuver? To appease Twitter users? Is change imminent? Long-term? These are lofty, imposing questions that I hope to continue to explore; however, I am not certain I will ever find definitive answers to them.
Who is truly able to judge who or what is worthy of an award? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Cinema is meant to be an individualistic experience: viewers draw their own conclusions from its interpretation based on their personal encounters.
Through film we begin to understand others; it is possible to comprehend and question, to experience and escape, to believe and doubt, to historicize or contemporize. We can contemplate love and hate, life and death, struggle and triumph. If we see the world through the lens of a narrow straw, we cannot see the world and in turn, we cannot see ourselves. Cinema is the window to a more comprehensive and positive understanding of modern America; one just has to see it from the correct angle.