Tag Archives: Oscars

Seeing the Trees Within the Forest

Sometimes, you can’t see the trees for the forest. Especially when your eyes are deliberately closed.

As I wrote Sunday, I deliberately snubbed the Oscar awards that night, primarily because of their historic and current misogyny. After finishing up the piece but before publishing, I realized I had not referred to Hollywood’s historic and current racism. I chose to leave the piece as it was, little suspecting the dramatic extent to which the ceremony was illuminating and placing in relief those same shameful character traits of the movie-making industry and their effect on our national dialogue about race and gender.

Let’s start with the opening musical number. On a night when men got four times the Oscar nominations that women did, the Academy chose to open the show with a number entitled “We Saw Your Boobs.” For the record, four of the nude scenes alluded to in Seth MacFarlane’s tasteless and voyeuristic song were rape scenes.

But then, mocking violence against women was something of a theme of the evening. In attempting a joke about the excruciatingly violent movie about slavery, “Django Unchained,” Mr. MacFarlane said, “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” Chris Brown, you may know has been accused of assaulting not only his girlfriend Rihanna (seen here in a painfully graphic image of that abuse) but also Frank Ocean, an R & B singer who came out recently as having had a homosexual relationship – and sure enough, there were anti-gay jokes too.

Stunningly, Seth MacFarlane’s humour did not represent the low point of the evening. That honour was reserved for “The Onion,” who posted – and later deleted – and much later apologized for – a tweet calling Oscar nominee Qudenzhané Wallis a crude and deeply offensive four-letter word often used to denigrate women (the original tweet is pictured here for those who haven’t seen it and want to know). Ms. Wallis, for the record, is nine years old – an age where even for the Oscars ceremony, she carried a puppy purse.

Meanwhile, the producers of the show, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron both stated they had no regret for including the “We Saw Your Boobs” number, and Mr. Zadan added, “You hire Seth MacFarlane, you want something to be cutting edge and irreverent.” (Zadan, quoted in The New York Times) Irreverent? Irreverent?!

As I understand it, the Academy is about 77% white male., so it is probably no surprise that a good deal of mansplaining and whitesplaining (thanks to my friend José Vilson for that term!) has been taking place attempting to explain away, minimize, and justify these attempts at humour that miss the mark so badly that one can easily be forgiven for having missed even the intention of humour in the first place (as I did with the “Onion” tweet). The misogyny is obvious to all but the most deliberately obtuse given the choice of words. The racism was equally obvious to many, but not all. Nonetheless, as Mr. Vilson points out – and it might be seen as merely a matter of bad timing though that seems highly unlikely – white child actors Dakota Fanning and Anna Paquin were not subjected to the same dehumanizing treatment inflicted on Ms. Wallis.

On Mr. Vilson’s Facebook page, Jennifer Dixey quoted her high-school-aged niece as having written, “If your humor is meant to be offensive, but you can’t deal with people being offended, your humor is probably about enforcing oppression.”

And with that comment, we’ve come a long long way from a ceremony meant simply to celebrate a form of entertainment – except that we really haven’t, as misogyny and racism are absolutely embedded in the movie industry. After all, they embraced Seth MacFarlane as host knowing what they were in for – and they defended him afterward.

This same weekend, in what seemed to be another world altogether, the girls of Stoneleigh-Burnham School presented a production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that was absolutely stunning in its power. Jane as Prospera (the final “a” is deliberate) made every single syllable count for maximum emotional impact, Mary as Ariel made every single movement pure poetry, and Karen as Caliban had the audience in stitches simply through the guttural sounds she emitted before we even saw her. And these are just examples – every single girl in the play was strong and confident, and took an obvious pride in her performance. As the cast was leaving stage after the final bow, one of the 8th graders glanced out at the audience with a look that shone so strongly of pride, delight, and perhaps a mild surprise that my eyes watered.

That is what can happen when we give kids the love and respect they deserve. As Mr. Vilson put it, “Until we can embrace each others’ humanity because of our minimal differences, we will continue to have this deep-seated angst and frustration… [But] if we can all look at our children as needing our support, care, and love on their own paths to success, then humanity will come one step closer to seeing as others as equal.”

And I do believe we can. I do believe we must.

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Filed under Gender, On Education, Performing Arts, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Girls School Advantage, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School, Women in media

Deliberate Snub

I confess, I don’t usually watch the Oscars. I don’t get to movies as often as I used to, the glamour of the ceremony has worn thin with time, and at any rate I usually have at least some schoolwork left to do on Sunday nights and can’t just sit on the couch and focus on the TV. Tonight, though, in case Oscar is wondering, yes, my sitting in the dining room and working on my computer is a deliberate snub. Here’s why.

I was innocently scrolling through my Twitter timeline while waiting for water to boil for my tea, sorting past the usual red carpet blather and dross, knowing it was a rough year for women in terms of nominations for actual achievements and trying to decide whether or not I wanted to feel outraged tonight when I came across the following tweet: “I can’t focus on her face when she is talking! If she lifts her arm… her boob will fall out!” And suddenly, I definitely wanted to feel outraged. While the media is breathlessly talking about breasts and how much of them we might end up seeing and how distracting they are, here’s what’s been going on in the film world this year.

According to the article in the Huffington Post “Are Women Not Oscar-Worthy?” not even a single woman was nominated in seven of 19 categories and only 35 women received nominations of any sort compared to 140 men (i.e. a 20%-80% ratio). The article continues to point out that while Kathryn Bigelow did become the first female director to win an Oscar in 2009, she remains the only one in history.

In the documentary “Miss Representation,” Catherine Hardwicke talked about her own life as a director. Given the perspective (unsupported by credible research) that only a very few female actors are bankable enough to carry a big budget movie, in order to get her first film made, Ms. Hardwicke had to go about as low budget as possible. She co-wrote “Thirteen” with a thirteen-year-old girl and she shot it in her house, with actors wearing her clothes and driving her car. The film went on to success at Sundance and beyond.

Nonetheless, Ms. Hardwicke notes that two major studios turned down the “Twilight” project before a new, small company took it on. No one expected the movie to be successful – and of course the franchise went on to make over half a billion dollars. “But there’s a flip side to that which is kind of astonishing to me. On the next two ‘Twilights,’ they hired guys. They did not seek out a female director, and on the same side, I’ve gone after some jobs that I’ve been told flat out to myself and my agent, ‘Oh, no, we think a guy should direct this.'” (Hardwicke in “Miss Representation”) You can well imagine my 8th grade Life Skills students’ reactions to this passage. One of them was literally sputtering, so mad she couldn’t form coherent words at first.

Geena Davis, for whom her successive roles as Thelma in “Thelma and Louise” and as the gifted catcher Dottie Hinson in “A League of Their Own” may have cemented her reputation as a strong female actor, has founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The Institute describes itself as “the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need for gender balance, reducing stereotyping and creating a wide variety of female characters for entertainment targeting children 11 and under.” (Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: About Us). The website includes a wealth of information, and the organization is working hard to change perceptions and make a positive difference.

Next Tuesday, Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women, will be speaking at UMass on challenges facing feminists. Susanna Thompson, our Director of Communications, discovered the event, sharing it with a number of people including Hannah Richards, who also works in Communications as well as teaching 7th grade Life Skills, and me. We are investigating whether the talk will be pitched at a level these young students will be able to understand, and if it is, we may offer it as an optional activity.

Perhaps securing a greater voice in the media will be one of the challenges of which Ms. O’Neill will speak? It’s certainly plausible.

Meanwhile, I will continue my mini-boycott of the Oscars.

We’ll see how it goes next year.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uncategorized, Women in media