Posted on February 11, 2020

The Academy Awards Culture War

Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, February 11, 2020

“I can’t understand how people can feel ‘betrayed’ by culture, yet this seems to happen all the time,” wrote Chuck Klosterman in his 2007 anthology with the curious title of IV. Culture can’t be “right” or “wrong,” it’s just “there,” he said. You can always ignore books, bands or movies you don’t like. However, what Mr. Klosterman “slowly came to realize” is that most people “don’t want merely to hold their values; they want their values to win.

Today, it’s obvious culture isn’t just “there.” It’s shaped. It’s the prize of a never-ending war. And increasing polarization means everything is political. Seeing a movie, concert, or sporting event is a political act, a way to help “your side.”

For example, one journalist recently wrote that saying the vaguely leftist movie Birds of Prey did poorly at the box office is giving in to “social media trolls” and an “overall narrative of failure.” Fans are encouraging others to “support” the film, as if it were a war effort. Rightists do the same thing. Some interpreted the Joker’s box office score, the 2017 New England Patriots Super Bowl win, and the video game Kingdom Come’s success as “victories.”

The quickest way to win is to make sure the other side can’t get its message out. Since Big Tech has mostly given up on free speech, corporations control almost everything that could be called “culture:” songs, YouTube shows, books, podcasts, concerts. This has a clearly racial angle. Activists demand (and corporations usually insert) “diversity” in previously white stories. Leftists criticize art, institutions, and cultural scenes that are “too white.”

This isn’t irrational. Non-whites are right that seeing images of “people like them” boosts self-esteem, collective identity, and power. White advocates are right when we say it’s psychologically harmful to see our people mocked and demeaned. Media control shapes the way people (or a people) view themselves. Culture is no longer an expression of a people but a zero-sum contest.

During a culture war, there an be no “art for art’s sake.” Awards shows reflect this. Like the Pulitzers, the Oscars are political. Since the “#OscarsSoWhite” campaign, every year journalists debate whether the Academy nominated enough non-whites. This year, the answer was no.

(The same debate and the same answer followed the BAFTA Film Award nominations).

Among the “Best Picture” nominees were 1917, The Irishman, Joker, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Little Women, and Ford v Ferrari. Journalists and critics have criticized all of them for being retrograde and/or too white. Jojo Rabbit, also nominated for “best picture,” is an “anti-hate satire.” It was directed by part-Maori Taika Waititi who played an effeminate Adolf Hitler, but the cast is otherwise unforgivably all white. And NPR accused it of being “soft” on haters.

Anything about the pre-mass-immigration past is automatically suspect. As one headline summarized the year in movies, “The film industry will stay racist and sexist until we drop period dramas.”

Journalists were therefore ecstatic when Parasite, a Korean film about class conflict, won Best Picture. It also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Film.

There’s something to the claim that the Oscars “needed” Parasite to win. It redeemed an entire Oscar season that was defensive and apologetic about race and sex. During the awards, many people complained that that no women were nominated for Best Director. Natalie Portman did her bit for the ladies by putting female directors’ names on her dress, even though she’s the sole female director at her own production company.

Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won pose with the Oscar for the film Parasite. (Credit Image: © Julie Edwards/Avalon via ZUMA Press)

There was also defensiveness about class. American Factory, a movie about exploited workers produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, won Best Documentary. Director Julia Reichart echoed the Communist Manifesto, saying “things will get better when the workers of the world unite.” She said this unironically at a ceremony where the top 25 nominees each got gift bags worth $215,000.

The opening number was Janelle Monáe singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and expressing her pride in being a “black, queer artist.” New Yorker’s Richard Brody said Miss Monáe’s song “powerfully invoked the unchallenged and unredressed racism that extends far beyond the Oscar nominations and Hollywood’s notables into society at large.”

Several nominees and winners had a lot to say about something that is allegedly unchallenged. The winner for Best Animated Short Film was Hair Love, about black hairstyles. Director Matthew Cherry said the film would ensure “more representation in animation” and “normalize black hair.”

When Taika Waititi introduced the winners of the academy’s honorary prizes, he reminded the audience they were on “the ancestral lands of the Tongva, the Tataviam, and the Chumash” (Southern California Indian tribes). When he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Jojo Rabbit, he dedicated the award to all “the indigenous kids who want to do art.”

There was just one black performer nominated for Best Actor or Best Actress, Cynthia Erivo in Harriet. Steve Martin and Chris Rock joked about this during a “comedy” sketch. It backfired when Mr. Martin pronounced Miss Erivo’s name wrong. Still, Miss Erivo got to sing her song “Stand Up,” a performance that culminated with a giant image of Harriet Tubman.

The Academy gave stage time to a practically unknown non-white performer. Who is Utkarsh Ambudkar? You probably don’t know, but he rapped about the Oscars’ lack of diversity. It looked desperate.

Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor for Joker and made a rambling acceptance speech that had to mention “gender inequality, racism, queer rights, animal rights.” Brad Pitt won Best Supporting Actor and made a joke about having more time at the microphone than Republicans gave John Bolton during the impeachment trial.

These two leftist declarations were interesting, considering that many journalists didn’t like the white male protagonists in Joker and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood. Steve Sailer called the latter Quentin Tarantino’s turn to the “subversive right,” giving us a movie where taciturn, white male heroes save the day and literally take a flamethrower to murderous hippies.

Parasite’s victory was the show’s climax. However, according to NBC, it also “ended an Oscars ceremony that seemed to be otherwise apologizing for its front-runners, in a production that felt like it was trying to overcome the narrative its own voters had created.” But even the Parasite victory couldn’t “redeem the Academy’s failings.”

Still, critics were happy 1917 didn’t win. If it had, Slate wrote, it would have been “a sign that an influx of hundreds of younger and more international artists had not yet transformed an institution that’s historically slow to evolve.” Instead, “Parasite’s Victory Means It’s Time to Take the Oscars Seriously.”

By whom? If watching something is a political act, so is not watching. The Oscars hit an all-time ratings low, losing almost six million viewers from just last year. Hollywood wants to lecture Americans about race, but Americans don’t want to listen. Besides, the Oscars can’t be legitimized just because non-whites win awards. You can’t take something seriously that requires a racial quota. Especially something that claims to be art.