Public Storytelling Awards: the Oscars

The New Year is gliding right along, building up days like snowflakes on a drift, (or around here, like raindrops building up rivers).  For our American entertainment industry, the New Year always brings the Great Celebrations of the Male: football play-offs and Oscar nominations/awards ceremony. Now, this post isn’t going to bash football.  As we all know, the game and the actions of many football players, both professional and college have been racking up a lot of justified criticism all on their own.

Autzen Stadium, Oregon Ducks, Wikipedia.
Autzen Stadium, Oregon Ducks, Wikipedia.

And, I’m proud of my city’s 2014 Heisman Trophy winner: Marcus Mariota of the University of Oregon Ducks. He’s a tribute to his parents, a shining star for Hawaii, a wonderful leader for the Ducks team, and most importantly, a really fine, upstanding young man.  I was cheering for him and our Oregon team during the Rose Bowl game and then, during the National College Football Playoff just this past Monday.  Yet, it must be acknowledged that both college and professional football, especially during the play-off season is an enormous, orchestrated celebration of men.

And today, the nominations for the Oscars were announced.  It’s no surprise that the stories featured in the eight films nominated for Best Picture all center on a man or men. After all, Allan G. Johnson highlighted this patriarchal bias quite well in his 2001 book, Privilege, Power, and Difference. And unfortunately, despite gains this past year for feminist causes and perspectives, the top award nominations (Best Picture is the prize), still lounge on  Big Daddy’s patriarchal leather couch, being praised to the hilt. The nominated films are: Selma, The Imitation Game, Whiplash, Boyhood, Birdman, American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Theory of Everything.

So, here we are, once again, looking at the BIG PICTURE per Hollywood, per the Oscars, per the status patriarchal quo. This matters because, for the past few decades, movies are our most common form of public storytelling.  It’s the most culturally accepted and socially promoted way for us to watch, listen to, and vicariously engage in, as well as emotionally and mentally digest the socially-constructed stories that form our culture’s mythologies. We take these stories into our mind and our mind’s eye and we absorb them.  Further, the values, the social constructs of gender, the hierarchical b.s., the control or domination, and the violence within these filmed stories continue to promote patriarchy as a social system that we all want to live within and under.  But is it?  The answer for me, spunky feminist mythologist that I am, will always be NO!

Atsushi Nishijima/ Fox Searchlight
Micheal Keaton, Birdman. Atsushi Nishijima/ Fox Searchlight

Fortunately, Linda Holmes’ NPR article about the nominations, entitled At the Oscar Nominations, It’s Good to Be an Idiosyncratic Man (found here) does call out that the stories that these best picture film nominations are almost exclusively about white males and that there were no women nominated for best director or best screenwriter. This is good: lifting the covers a bit to show the that white males are set up to be the race and gender most favored by patriarchy is another step toward seeing the world through a feminist lens.  However, the article could have just as easily been titled, “At the Oscar Nominations, It’s Good to Be a White Man.”

I invite you, dear readers, to take another look at the films that the Oscar nominations are lauding.  Ask yourselves if the film would pass the Bechdel Test (some do, other’s don’t). Ask yourself if the men featured in these stories, however odd their personality might be, do not also fit a patriarchal mold. Personally, I have high hopes for Selma and its portrayal of Martin Luther King.  Plus, it was directed by a woman–Ava DuVernay!  And, with Birdman, it was great to see that one of tensions in the life of the main character is to try desperately to leave his former big ticket, patriarchal super-hero role behind (literally stalking him in the picture above). Don’t worry, that’s all I’m going to say so that there’s no spoilers.  Thanks as always for reading and I look forward to your thoughts and commentary!