I love film. I love the ritual of going to a cinema, buying the ticket at the booth, getting some popcorn and buttering it up, and losing myself in the world that is the movie.
Going to the movies is an American Tradition. People go to the movies everyday, and now, more than ever, people have access to more movies without needing to leave the comfort of home, thanks to the internet. Pirating of film, now happening almost exclusively online (though I do miss the bootlegs I’d get from the shady vendor whilst eating Pupas), and the availability of movies via Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and so on, has made the movie going experience not only evolve, it has given us the ability to access more films more quickly than ever before. Even so, going to the Movies is still a popular pastime, globally, and we need only see the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to know we’re willing to pay an expensive ticket for a few hours of magic.
Why does this matter? Well, as old as film is, with its vast history, it is important to remember what film is (and does) to us. It is not only entertainment, but wether we like it or not, cinema is a tool to which we are socialized. We learn about ourselves, but more importantly, about each other, through film. Take the “classic” racist white supremacist film “A Birth of a Nation”, or the propaganda films in Nazi Germany that explicitly dehumanized Blacks and Jews. These are explicit examples of film being used to “teach” the masses what they should believe. However, that learning does not only occur when we can explicitly point out racism, sexism, homophobia, or ableism in film. This “teaching” is much more insidious.
As Ella Shohat and Robert Stam outline in their groundbreaking work, “Unthinking Eurocentrism”, Cinema has a highly racist, colonial, and patriarchal history, from its inception to our present. Film is overwhelmingly White and Male, and has for decades, if not an entire century, told the same stories over and over again. From the White Savior to the Male Gaze, scholars and Third World Cinema have interrogated the problematic aspects of cinema, highlighting why we can’t just ignore what happens in Hollywood and the executive offices of blockbuster production companies.
Film is so integral to our world because, as Edward Said posits in his seminal work “Orientalism”, we come to construct the racialized other through our cultural texts and the discourse (of power) that they produce. We come to know non-normative/othered bodies, both as completely alien and completely knowable, through the books we read, and in our present, the shows and films we watch, and the discourses that surround them.
This is why the Oscars, and the current boycott being headed by Jada Pinkett Smith, matters so damn much. We cannot afford to not care about the Oscars. For the second year in a row, nominating only White actors in its four performance categories, or that the writers, cinematographers, directors, are also always overwhelmingly white and male, is not only a symptom of the institutional racism and sexism run amok in Hollywood and Media at large, it is a reproduction of system of oppression. More importantly, we need to remember the link movies and discourse have to the material consequences of our lived realities.
It may not be so obvious, but films and this boycott of the Oscars is in part a manifestation of #BlackLivesMatter, because why is it that we need the BLM movement? Part of the reason is that somehow someway Black Lives and the lives of People of Color, in there ever expanding beauty and complexities, are not valued and often times are seen as subhuman, or not even close to human at all. The reason we are so easily killed, bombed, deported, incarcerated, colonized, is because the powers that be, and the individuals who benefit from those powers, do not see us as human. Yet this does not only happen when they physically see us in front of them, this happens when they read about our bodies in literature, when they see our bodies as violent and dangerous in shows, when they see our bodies as viscous and savage in film, but even more so, when they do not see us in anything, and the only thing they do see is themselves, as heroes, as lovers, as geniuses, as complex human beings worth of love, compassion, understanding, and life.
I am not saying that film is what has led to the killings of unarmed Black men, women, children, trans, and non gender binary people, but that films is one part of a complex system that contributes to the collective justification of why those killings were warranted, why those lives didn’t matter when the bullets were shot, why we don’t deserve a voice or a seat at the table when it comes to seeking justice.
Lastly, we need to realize that the Oscars matter for our future. It was important for so many young Black Girls to see Lupita Nyong’o win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, because they then suddenly believe in their humanity a bit more, and can touch something that tells them they are worthy of recognition and worthy of pursuing their talent. But equally as important is to think of how film can help White/Men/Cis/Able Bodied/Hetero-Normative people unlearn their internalized bullshit and see others as human. Cinema is one of the most powerful tools to extend ourselves and others the humanity that we think they are undeserving of. Cinema is one of the many tools we need to combat White Supremacy, Colonialism, and the Neoliberal Herero-Patriarchy.
The boycott is part of a larger conversation that needs to be had. I commend Jada, Will, Spike, Mark, Lupita, and others for their course in calling out the Academy, a space that is mostly White and Male, in addressing the systemic issues when it comes to representation. We need more Academy members, especially White members, to speak up and take the lead in addressing and implanting systemic change.
Sorry, but to say the Oscars isn’t important is to ignore how much they actually matter, and how they can be a tool do dismantle these systems of oppressions that kill us everyday.
So please, don’t disregard the Oscars as some White Bougie Elitist Award Ceremony undeserving of our energy, because while that description may be accurate, it need not be.