I have a posse who gathers together at my place for my single annual party to watch the Academy Awards. These are friends from different parts of my life – dance, union, justice struggle, work, the old days – who have jelled into an Oscars machine over many years. Here’s my takeaway from the night.
GETTING CRAP OFF MY CHEST
I wasn’t one of those who moaned that Billy Crystal was too old and too old school to be dragged back to replace the originally scheduled Eddie Murphy (who quit in solidarity when his producer buddy was kicked off the Oscars for homophobic bigotry). In fact, I looked forward to Crystal’s brand of Jewish liberal humor – sometimes he really nails it.
But why oh why did he dredge up his blackface imitation of Sammy Davis Jr., a schtick he used to do in the 1980s on Saturday Night Live - albiet with Sammy's blessing apparently? How many people even remember Sammy Davis Jr. (on left) and how many are aware of the role of blackface in Hollywood? In Billy’s mind, he was injecting Sammy into the tribute to “Midnight in Paris,” in which lots of celebrity artists were brought back from the dead. It was tasteless.
And then there were the very personal “fatty” jokes. It was inexplicably boorish and unacceptable to humiliate an Oscar nominee in front of a global audience, or anyone or anywhere else for that matter. Under-eating seemed like a much more prevalent issue in that crowd – and not because of the poverty that is damaging 25% of American children. Shame on you, Billy.
As for the political, topical jokes, ahhh, I must’ve missed them. While it is true that Billy made us laugh, here at my “do,” it is also the case that we are a group that likes to laugh together. He did not make us guffaw until we choked – as Whoopi has done in the past and Ellen did the year she hosted. We had adored Ellen’s work that night and to this day I can’t figure out why she was panned.
Anyway, back to 2012. There was a lot of ageist garbage about Christopher Plummer too, especially on the Red Carpet where the dim lot of interviewers seemed more excited about his being four score than about his talent. How annoying. I missed the moment when he got a little testy with some such Red Carpet mic-thruster.
“THE YEAR OF THE LADIES”
Then there were all these male commentators going on and on about this being the “year of the ladies.” Do me a favor. Look at what the top roles for women were about: suffering race/class exploitation; being raped; whitewashing the life of a despised union-busting rightwing leader; living a miserable life as a cross-dresser; playing Marilyn. Talk to me about “the year of the ladies” when a woman is playing the general manager of a big-league baseball team – based on real life.
Angelina Jolie’s disturbing pose when she was presenting an Oscar – she awkwardly thrust her leg out of her skirt slit – was so weird that one of the guys who received that Oscar stood in comic imitation of her stance. Everyone later had an opinion on it, but why weren’t folks talking about the real visual anomaly: her terrifying skinniness. Her arms were wasted and her skull-like-face loomed large above a reduced body. I found all the talk about her beauty grotesque.
Viola Davis won the too-gorgeous-for-words award hands-down (not to mention the prize for the buffest arms). She was not the only one to wear her hair naturally, but she was also the most photographed. Allison Samuels wrote an interesting piece called “Why Viola Davis Ditched the Wig at the Oscars,” which talks about how the “star's bold statement blew the lid off the complicated politics of black women’s hair.” Chris Rock (a presenter) grew out his Afro 70s style and made some funny, insightful comments (photo at left), but singer Esperanza Spalding’s halo proved that size does matter! (see her photo below)
I was glad they didn’t excise J-Lo’s areola which many of us with nipple-radar spotted immediately. I see that she issued a denial on American Idol when teased about it, but hey, I’ve always strongly believed that if men can show their breasts without incurring criminal charges, women should be able to as well.
All the nasty chatter about how old-fashioned and unchallenging it was to re-draft Billy Crystal could better have been focused on a main aspect of the Oscars culture. Gender fashion stereotypes are more rigid every year. Look at how uniformly everyone was dressed. What a snoozefest. Why do all the women have to wear prom dresses? Remember in the 70s when you’d see an occasional short skirt, a pair of slacks, or something vaguely cutting edge? Now it’s all just full-length, girlish fabrics puddling at one’s stilettos. Any differences were in quantity (more sparkle, two-shoulder drape instead of one) not quality. Yawn. Where was the leather onesy? The woman in a tuxedo? The guy in a tutu?
THE JC PENNY COMMERCIALS
I’m the kind of person who, if I can’t TIVO a show in order to fast forward the commercials, then I mute them. My crowd had no idea that JC Penny was going to introduce a gaggle of their surprisingly entertaining ads starring Ellen. Go to google to catch up if you missed the whole controversy in which right-wing Xtians tried to strong-arm JC Penny into dumping the queer, but JC Penny wasn’t having any of it, and then Ellen talked about it straight up on her TV show. The ads are a hoot and in my house they were probably the highlight of the evening.
So ancient Billy Crystal doesn’t appeal to the youth demographic, eh? Remember last year’s youth-appeal MCs – Mr Comatose and Ms Five-Hour-Energy drink? Here are the comparative figures:
“The Nielsen Co. estimated Monday that 39.3 million people watched the Oscars on ABC Sunday night, up from the 37.9 million viewers during the much-panned 2011 show where James Franco and Anne Hathaway shared hosting duties.”
I don’t have a horse in the Academy Awards race other than the desire to be entertained. The reason I don’t talk here about the winners and losers is because I don’t care that much about the Academy’s choices. This year the LA Times backed our long-held assumption with hard research in their piece “Oscar voters overwhelmingly white, male.” This may explain why the fabulous film “Pariah” was not nominated, not to mention my favorite film of the year, Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In.” I watched all the awards shows this year – from the Golden Globes to the BAFTA (British Oscars) to the Independent Spirit Awards. But I only have my party posse over for this grand one. I try to keep the expectations for the show low and let my chicken salad and techina be the stars.