Did the 2018 Oscars Fail the #MeToo Movement?
The ranks here at FASHION are not filled with men. Shocking, right? But there are one or two (there are actually, literally, two). Naturally, when a question about male/female dynamics arises it’s only fair that one of them stand in for the members of his gender and provide some insight. Our last topic of conversation was the likelihood of woke political moments at the first Oscars of the #MeToo era and today, we’re discussing what went down and how we felt about it. Two of our staffers—from the men’s corner, Greg Hudson, and from the women’s, Pahull Bains—talk it out.
Pahull Bains: Overall, the Oscars were a well-conducted affair. Jimmy Kimmel got in some good barbs at Weinstein, at the toxic, predatory nature of the movie biz, at Mike Pence, and even snuck in some self-deprecatory quips about last year’s best picture goof-up. (None of that really matters though, because what this year’s Oscars will be remembered for is Frances McDormand’s invigorating, slightly demented, game-changing best actress speech.) Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino briefly talked #TimesUp on the red carpet, and Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra—the women at the forefront of the Weinstein unraveling—took to the stage to talk about the reckoning of the past several months before introducing a montage on the importance of inclusion, diversity and representation in the industry. But for the most part, the Oscars—or at least, their red carpet—were #MeToo-free. Which led me to wonder whether Hollywood only does lip service to these kinds of issues when it’s the “theme” of the evening, like at the Golden Globes, and they feel almost obliged to do so. The E! red carpet hosts avoided talk of it completely, but that obviously has a lot more to do with the recent Ryan Seacrest news than anything else. What do you think?
Greg Hudson: Confession: I didn’t watch the red carpet coverage, so I can’t speak to whether I would have found it jarring, or even remarkable at all, that there wasn’t much #MeToo talk. But, since I am a dude writing things on the Internet, I’m not going to let a little thing like not seeing it prevent me from commenting on it. First: yes, I think mostly Hollywood (as a whole) only talks about things when it’s safe and expected to do so. (Obviously, this is why the women who first stood up and spoke to New York Times were seriously brave) and for whatever reason, it wasn’t expected of anyone to talk about it on last night’s red carpet. Maybe because all the other award ceremonies made it a central issue of their red carpets. Maybe they figured that if they couldn’t say anything new, why say anything at all? But, having worked exactly one red carpet in my life, I can say with some experience, that that setting is not the most conducive to serious talk, so I don’t know if an opportunity was really missed.
On the positive side of things, what I did notice what was felt like a greater respect and appreciation for older celebrities. Actually, I only vaguely took note of that, until my mother mentioned it on my family’s Oscar Text Chain (I didn’t win our Oscar Pool, by the way. I’m sure you were curious). We had Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren presenting together. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway getting a redo (and he still struggled to open the envelope, bless him), along with Rita Moreno wearing the same dress she wore when she attended the Oscars in the ’60s, and Eva Marie Saint joking about being older than the Oscars while presenting the Best Costume Design. It’s pretty easy to ignore seniors–or not consider them a minority that needs representation–maybe because they were apart of the hegemony before aging out of it (why feel guilty if a old rich white lady doesn’t get to be a super famous anymore?) or maybe because they remind us of our mortality, especially in a context like The Oscars where traditional beauty is so highly praised (not that any of those women mentioned above weren’t absolutely killing it). But, I get the sense that representation matters to older people, too. And so it was kind of great to see more attention paid this year.
I noticed that because my parents are suddenly getting older. We all notice the things that are more relevant to us. So, given that: what else stood out to you?
PB: Every single time Kumail Nanjiani said anything. He’s one of the best examples of a relatable Muslim/ relatable immigrant/ relatable brown guy in the industry (relatable is usually code for harmless, but anyway) and we need more of that kind of representation, especially at platforms like the Oscars. He cracked a couple of jokes onstage with Lupita Nyong’o, talking about the importance of immigrants and dreamers in America: “I’m from Pakistan and Iowa, two places that nobody in Hollywood can find on a map.” And I also loved what he said in some of the pre-taped segments, like how he and his wife Emily V. Gordon often talk about running a website that shows Muslims having fun. “Muslims eating ice cream, and riding rollercoasters, and laughing, and having fun. [Emily] gets to see that, and most of America doesn’t,” he said. (Also, he kind of won Twitter with the very sweet photo he took of Gordon standing up at Frances McDormand’s call for all the female nominees in the theatre to rise.)
Another of my favourite moments of the night was the Tiffany Haddish & Maya Rudolph presenter duo. They killed it with their bit on how people might be worried that #OscarsSoWhite is turning into #OscarsSoBlack (no cause for alarm, folks), and were just so refreshing. I loved their deadpan banter and natural, almost-effortless ease with the jokes. Calls for them to host next year’s ceremony have already begun, and I am behind it 100%.
Now. We can’t not talk about the Gary Oldman and Kobe Bryant wins. Thoughts?
GH: Ah man, I was going to continue the love fest, but then you had to go and bring Gary and Kobe into it.
I will not be dissuaded—I’ll get back to Kobe in a second. Speaking of hosts, I think there is a lesson here for men who defensively worry that the new “being gross because you are a dude is no longer tolerated” reality affecting their ability to flirt, or have sex, or live a fulfilling life. (Ugh. I hate that I equated sexual harassment with having a fulfilling life, but I do think some men make that same connection, even if they don’t say so specifically). Basically, Jimmy was funny! So were Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, who hosted the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday. These funny male hosts are good examples that you can be on the right side of the issue while still being funny, edgy, and yes, a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered male. We aren’t being replaced entirely because we don’t need to be replaced entirely. And if these dudes can be funny despite all the pressure, I think men can learn how to flirt appropriately when the pressure isn’t so great. I’m not saying all hosts should be men all the time, I’m just looking for the upside of all the white dude hosts. Men need good examples. Representation is important, even when that representation is decent men.
And now, speaking of indecent men: what should we think of Kobe and Gary. I think I’ve mentioned my ambivalence about these stories before, but I get uncomfortable about the (attempted) backlash against these two. It’s not because I think either of them are good dudes necessarily. I have absolutely no rooting interest in either of them. And would not have cared one bit if neither had been nominated or won. It’s surprisingly easy to go through life without being accused of domestic violence or rape, which doesn’t mean either are guilty just because they were accused, but it does make me wary of offering too much sympathy.
That being said, both Kobe and Gary (I hope you don’t mind that I’m using their first names; it’s bad journalism practice but it makes me feel powerful) highlight the tricky issue of defining justice, especially when the actual justice system isn’t involved. Neither of them were convicted of anything–and unlike some men who were accused, these men both could have been. Police were actually involved. This doesn’t mean they are innocent, of course. It just means that, technically, there isn’t an immediate justification for treating them differently. So, what should have happened?
We sometimes treat the Oscars as if the Academy were a monolith, with some governing body handing out awards like a monarch. That isn’t the case. The nominees come from individual votes, and the winners do too. That both earned nods and statues just shows that enough voters didn’t care about their pasts. Should they have? Should the Academy have disqualified them? On what grounds? What should men do if they have problematic histories? Disappear? How long do we bring up past misconduct? I don’t really know the answer, because on the one hand, I don’t think Woody Allen deserves the praise he continues to get, but on the other, I can’t help but feel like the Kobe and Gary stories were mostly attempts at creating drama. There have been ample opportunities to address both of their issues long before the Oscars. It seems like courting controversy to seem outraged about it now. Especially when there isn’t really anyone to be angry at, except for all the individuals who voted for them.
Basically, I don’t have an answer. But it makes me feel… confused. I don’t love it. And also, not for nothing, but do you think winning an Academy Award really feels like their worst behaviour is what is being rewarded? That’s the problem with bringing up such old allegations: any social punishment that can be handed down by the public will feel disconnected to the alleged crime. Basically, what’s the goal here?
PB: There’s no easy answer, to be sure. You’re totally right that “the Academy” can’t be blamed at large; it’s comprised of thousands of voters from within the industry itself, and what got Oldman and Bryant (I’m not first-name buddies with them like you are) up on that stage is literally being voted for by scores of their peers who clearly either don’t believe the allegations at all, or don’t consider them to be disqualifying. Everyone’s allowed their own opinion, and unfortunately in this case it led to entertainment’s highest honour being awarded to two men accused of sexual or domestic violence. No one knows what really happened—in Bryant’s case, the accuser eventually declined to testify in court, although there is forensic evidence that matches up with her original testimony; and in Oldman’s, even IF he didn’t try to hit his wife with a telephone, he’s said some veryyy disagreeable things about Nancy Pelosi and also said, in defense of Mel Gibson, that “we’ve all said” anti-semitic things. But like I said earlier, the Academy voters likely knew this and proceeded to vote for them anyhow.
I personally don’t think there should be any kind of statute of limitations on this sort of thing though. Both Bryant’s and Oldman’s alleged transgressions are from the early 2000s, and Woody Allen’s from the 1980s, but should that really matter? In this era of heightened social justice, accountability, and well, not taking bullshit anymore, I don’t think it really matters when we come to our senses and start taking a stand for whatever it is we believe in, as long as we do.
Coming back to your question about whether voters should serve as some sort of jury in the court of public opinion, that’s kind of what the Oscars are anyway, right? People exercising their own personal judgment and opinion to crown the winners of the night. If I were one of them, I’d certainly include “abuse/violence/harassment” in my list of disqualifiers, because I’m of the belief that rewarding the work of men accused of such things is akin to rewarding the men’s actions themselves, but hey, that’s just me, and I’m no member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I do wonder, though, about James Franco’s omission from this year’s list of nominees, given his pre-allegations win for best actor in a comedy or musical at the Globes. Was it because voters’ moral ambiguity wouldn’t stretch that far (maybe because it was too fresh?), or were they just not into his Tommy Wiseau impression?
GH: I think it was definitely because the allegations against James Franco were so fresh. Academy voters knew they’d look out of touch if they nominated him, whereas Bryant’s stuff felt forgotten. After all, in the sports world, he had already recovered, won championships, and retired with glory years before this Oscar thing. Ditto Oldman.
Although, a note about Oldman—which again, I must preface by saying, aside from thinking he made a fine Jim Gordon, I have zero affinity towards him—if he were excluded from the Oscars because of past transgressions, I would hope it would be the domestic violence, not the answers he gave in a Playboy interview. I really don’t like when old interviews that are in the public record are said to be “unearthed,” especially when they are only a few years old. It’s what self-important journalists do when they want to find drama. Look what we discovered! We dug deep by Googling Gary Oldman Interview and we found pay dirt! Yes, people should be judged by the sum of all their statements, but we should also allow people the freedom to change their opinion. I hope I’m not judged by the dumb stuff I said in my early 20s. But, yeah, the abuse? That deserves to disqualify you from future awards, unless you do all you can to take responsibility and make amends. Which neither Bryant nor Oldman did.
It’s funny, I totally agree with what you’re saying, and I don’t think just because someone is famous now, they deserve to stay famous, I think I’m mostly annoyed with disingenuous entertainment news stories. They feel catty. A quick example that I just ran into today to show what I mean:
This article from The Daily Beast is about Trump’s smear campaign against D’Jango Unchained in 2013, back when President Trump wasn’t President. Do I like President Trump? Not even a tiny bit. But I still think bringing up the President’s stupid tweets from five years ago is dumb. The point is maybe to highlight that the President isn’t serious or smart. Fine. We know that from today’s news. We don’t need an old story to prove it to us. It’s just courting controversy. And no one looks good.
So, maybe people tried reaching out to Oldman’s and Bryant’s alleged victims and they declined to be interviewed, but it seems more like the issues were remembered not to add to the conversation or to check in on survivors but to get clicks.
Do you feel like it’s hypocritical that it’s both expected and encouraged to make jokes about Harvey Weinstein and his ilk during the show, but to not mention Gary Oldman and Kobe Bryant’s indiscretions? Or to continue to praise, for example, Chuck Barry despite his horrible history with women. It starts to feel more like virtue signaling than speaking truth to power. Still, I suppose we can learn from the signals.
Overall, the Oscars was pretty uncontroversial. No one really stuck their foot in their mouth, nor did anyone do anything too crazy (Frances’s rallying cry notwithstanding). And even the winners themselves were predictable and safe. It was nice to see Jordan Peele win, I suppose, but it wasn’t all that shocking. Really, the part of the show that was hardest to watch was when Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer presented together. And that was only because they are both too perfect looking and so to see them together was like looking directly into the sun.