Nominations for the Academy Awards were announced this week. As an Angeleno, this event is all-encompassing. You can be walking down the street and strangers will rush up to argue with you about the nominees for Best Documentary (Short).
In any case, Don’t Look Up got four nominations, including Best Picture. That’s quite a bit of love for a movie described as “shrill,” “smug,” “bombastic,” and “propaganda.”
Damn—regardless of whether you loved or hated Don’t Look Up, it is obviously the most culturally relevant mainstream film of the year. You can tell a lot about Americans by asking them if they liked this movie.
You see, progressives tend to love the black-comedy takedown of Trump, pandemic incompetence, and climate change denial. Conservatives tend to hate the film for lecturing them. Scientists have praised the movie for shining a metaphorical light on their frustrations, and media types loathe it for portraying them as vapid cheerleaders for status quo corruption.
But the most intriguing part of the debate is the insistence that Don’t Look Up is unfair to conservatives. Of course, it is unclear how one makes a film about the dangers of refuting science without pointing out that conservatives are—and let’s be honest—the bad guys here. Criticism of the movie for portraying conservative ignorance and hostility implies that the filmmakers “have some special responsibility not to offend the sensibilities of those who regard being informed as offensive.”
In response to Don’t Look Up, maybe conservatives can make their own movie about how progressives are the real threat. It would star James Woods, the original Buffy, and that guy who used to be Superman. And it would be about how the woke mob is coming to yell at you.
OK, that doesn’t sound as gripping as a killer comet destroying the planet, and it would also really suck. So all that does is reinforce our awareness that conservative actions are far more dangerous than liberal ideas.
With that settled, let’s move on to what else the Oscars tell us about America.
For example, when nominations were announced, Latinos were represented. Notice that I didn’t say, “well represented,” because that would not be true.
Yes, Hispanics accounted for either one or three acting nominations—depending on how you categorize Spaniards—and some familiar names like Guillermo del Toro and Lin-Manuel Miranda nabbed mentions. But considering that Latinos are about 18 percent of the U.S. population and have the highest per-capita theater attendance among all ethnicities, well, the paucity of Latino nominees is both disappointing and disproportionate.
It’s not even that Latino artists were snubbed, because to be snubbed indicates that there were real contenders who were overlooked.
Listen, we all love Judi Dench. But nobody, including her, is overly excited about her 134th Oscar nomination. To be clear, Academy voters did not say, “I’m going with the regal British dame and ignoring the many Latinas who gave great performances”—because there are so few Latinas who even show up in movies to be considered in the first place. Hispanic stories and characters rarely make it to the big screen, period.
In American films, only about six percent of characters with speaking or named roles are Hispanic, a percentage that has varied little in over a decade. By most measurements, Latinos trail all ethnic groups with regards to screen time. And when Latinos do appear in movies, they are frequently cast as negative stereotypes.
The numbers are not much better for Latino directors, producers, writers, and other off-camera talent. With those percentages, it’s actually surprising that any Hispanics get nominated.
There are more movies about ultra-orthodox Jews (a tiny percentage of the population) than there are about Latino families. You are more likely to see animal-human hybrids as superheroes than a Latino saving the world.
No, the Oscars do not reflect America. At best, they reflect our hopes, dreams and aspirations.
But more than anything, they indicate our political divisions and highlight our shortcomings. They are shiny golden metaphors for how America is not a unified culture, nor even a unified country.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go mix it up with my neighbor, who’s out in the street shouting that Ari Wegner will never win Best Cinematography—and I can’t let that stand.
Featured image by lincolnblues/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0