VACCHIANO: Academy Awards politics are overanalyzed to fault


Opinions Column: Tory Time


Last Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was full of political moments — whether it was when  Lin-Manuel Miranda wore a ribbon for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), or when Emma Stone wore a pin for Planned Parenthood, or when the winner of the Best Foreign Language Film skipped the ceremony to make a statement against President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban, viewers at home were reminded again of Hollywood’s politics. But the most unexpected, and unplanned, political moment was when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway accidentally announced the musical "La La Land"  as the Best Picture winner, when it was actually "Moonlight," a drama about a black man struggling with his sexuality. On a night that was supposed to belong to "La La Land," a movie that had tied with "All About Eve" and "Titanic" for the most nominations in Oscars history and was predicted to win Best Picture, "Moonlight" took its rightful prize after a few minutes of chaos and confusion.

Announcing the wrong winner for Best Picture was an unprecedented mistake, but one that made some people relieved. Progressives have been arguing for more minority representation in the Oscars categories — and even though their standards seemed impossible to achieve (since each category for an individual award only has five slots and sometimes the five most qualified for the award are not demographically diverse) — this year their standards were very near met. Two black winners and two white winners were chosen for the Best Acting categories and all four acting categories had diverse nominees. More significantly, the juxtaposition between a high-grossing Old Hollywood-like musical losing to a movie about a gay black man growing up in Miami was too good to be true for some, but for others, it was not good enough.

The cast of "Moonlight" was in a state of disbelief after winning Best Picture and gave an enthusiastic thanks to the Academy. But when the cast of "La La Land" was mature and very willing to give back their trophies, race theorists still found fault in their actions. On Wednesday, Buzzfeed published a dreadful article called "How The Oscar Flub Demonstrates The Limits of Black Graciousness,” in which "Moonlight" Director Barry Jenkins was scrutinized for being “too gracious” to the cast of "La La Land" under the logic that being gracious for the award and his colleagues’ understanding is a testament to how black people are oppressed in society, as if this is a significant form of oppression. The article says, “Graciousness is appreciated … but it was not necessary. That the incredible win for 'Moonlight' — a film about black gay love, black masculinity, blackness in microcosm and writ large, co-written and directed by a black man — will forever be linked to 'La La Land' and misplaced graciousness is a damn shame,” although anyone who knows anything about the Oscars realizes that this statement is nonsense. None of the gratefulness was excessive — winning Best Picture is literally the highest honor that a filmmaker could hope for. And the fact that "Moonlight" was a $1.5 million film made by a rather unknown director makes it that much more special. It has nothing to do with black people needing to make themselves gracious towards white people. It is right to commend the cast of "La La Land" for giving up their trophies without issue, as it was an embarrassing moment for them, but "Moonlight" is still being celebrated. Also, one could even say that the blunder in announcing Best Picture gave more attention to "Moonlight," as not many had originally seen it during its limited release. Despite the political significance that modern leftists have placed on who wins Academy Awards, it’s easy for most people to forget which movies won Best Picture, so being connected to such a bizarre moment like the mistake on Sunday will probably make "Moonlight" more recognizable in the long term without detracting from its social commentary.

Is the fact that "La La Land" had the title of Best Picture of 2016 for two full minutes before giving up its award to "Moonlight" going to have severe racial implications for black people? Was the cast of "Moonlight" being racially submissive by expressing their thanks? The answers to these questions are both "no." The critical reaction to the Best Picture misunderstanding exemplifies society’s obsession with race and how race theorists try to pin down oppression to a fault. After last year’s #OscarsSoWhite backlash, one would think that the representation at this year’s ceremony would be celebrated, but it was only subject to more criticism and dangerous rhetoric. Once our society gets past minute details like this, maybe we can fix our real issues.

Andrea Vacchiano is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double-majoring in history and political science. Her column, "Tory Time," runs on alternate Fridays.


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Andrea Vacchiano

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