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How Should We Feel About Patricia Arquette? The No-Exit Flowchart

At the Academy Awards last Sunday, as you might recall, Patricia Arquette took home the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a single mom in Boyhood. She brought the house down (and Meryl Streep to her feet) when she used her acceptance speech as an occasion to sound off on the topic of socioeconomic equality for women.

“It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women,” she declared.

Whether or not you think the Oscars are the appropriate venue for political commentary, this is not a terribly controversial position. Arquette’s real trouble came when she elaborated on her views backstage:

[…] the truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are applied that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.

This well-intentioned, impassioned rush of words was met with an onslaught of crash-course think pieces on intersectionality, problematic pronoun use, and ill-informed celebrity activism (not to mention the usual Twitter outage, which was livid and glib in equal measures.)

Negotiating the tangle of issues at play, Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post has illustrated the proper way to respond to Arquette’s remarks with this witty flowchart-of-no-escape.

[via Washington Post]

Diversity Onstage Stands In Stark Contrast To Nominees

By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the Oscar nominations in January, the absence of any minority group nominees in the acting categories — for only the second time since 1998 — triggered a backlash of criticism and threats of protest.

But Sunday’s Academy Awards show boasted the most diverse group of performers and presenters in Oscars history, as 15 minority presenters, including Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez, Viola Davis, Idris Elba, Kevin Hart, and Oprah Winfrey, took the stage to deliver the evening’s awards.

It wasn’t by accident.

In the 2012 telecast, there was just one black presenter — Chris Rock. When producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron took over the following year, they made it a priority to have the Oscars show look a little more like the people at home watching. There were eight presenters of color in 2013 and 12 last year.

“We’ve always been very conscious of diversity in terms of our presenters and our performers,” Meron said backstage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood in the days leading to the show. “We feel that’s the way the world exists. We’ve always been believers in having an Oscar show that reflects the way the world exists.”

Zadan and Meron began recruiting presenters and performers last spring and said their choices were not affected by the furor over the Oscar nominations, which focused largely on the omission of actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay of Selma, which won a best picture nomination.

Even so, the contrast between the presenters onstage and the nominees drew notice and criticism.

“The presentation (of minorities) onstage does not bear any resemblance to the nominees and therefore the winners,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been outspoken about the lack of diversity in the academy’s membership and Hollywood as a whole. “One has to wonder whether or not the academy was trying to compensate with optics for what they didn’t do with operations.”

Traditionally the top-rated entertainment show on television, ABC’s Oscar telecast was watched by 36.6 million people in the U.S., according to Nielsen. But the evening’s nominees reflect the tastes of the much smaller, more homogenous academy membership, a group that is 94 percent white and 76 percent male with a median age of 62, according to a 2012 analysis done by the Los Angeles Times.

Since then, the academy has added more women and members of minority groups — but according to the most recent survey, the percentage of older white men in the organization has dipped by only about 1 percentage point.

Zadan and Meron have a history of highlighting minority performers. A number of Zadan and Meron’s previous projects, including a 2012 Steel Magnolias TV movie remake with a black cast and a 2008 TV movie version of the play A Raisin in the Sun, also reflect a long career of working with black artists in particular.

The highlighting of black and Latino performers reflects the support of academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Chief Executive Dawn Hudson, who are grappling with how to expand the demographic reach of the 6,292-member group

Diversity appeared a main focus of the show as actors of color were often shown in the audience (Carmen Ejogo and Murphy), onstage giving out awards (Lupita Nyong’o) and referred to often in comedic bits by host Neil Patrick Harris (Octavia Spencer).

Harris also walked into the audience, engaging Oyelowo, who was not nominated for his leading role as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. He “was so fantastic,” said Harris of Oyelowo’s performance. When the crowd applauded, the host quipped, “Oh, now you like him.”

One of the night’s most memorable moments came from a performance by African-American performers Common and John Legend, who sang the song “Glory” from Selma backed by a gospel choir marching over a replica of the bridge that King and others crossed in Alabama in the push for voting rights that inspired the film. “Glory” went on to win for original song.

Another came when Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu was greeted with a standing ovation when his Birdman won best picture. He dedicated his Oscar to the people of Mexico and told the worldwide TV audience that America should treat immigrants with “dignity and respect.”

Despite the producers’ efforts to draw a wider audience, the telecast suffered a 16 percent drop in ratings from last year’s show. Blame that on a slate of films that relatively few people saw and a host who lacked the star power provided by last year’s host, Ellen Degeneres.

Some critics say the larger issue isn’t the Oscars but a film industry that is not reflective of American society.

“We’re the largest (minority) population in the U.S., and in terms of age demographics we represent a lot of moviegoers,” says Fernando Guerra, professor of political science and of Chicana/o Studies at Loyola Marymount. “Latinos are a huge demographic in terms of purchasing tickets, yet Hollywood is still not responsive. They’re often accused of chasing the mighty dollar. OK then, chase it!”

While the many top Oscar categories lacked people of color this year, several acceptance speeches on Sunday addressed the diversity that some felt was lacking in the awards themselves.

“Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now,” said singer Legend. “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real.”

Legend also decried the large numbers of black men in prison, saying: “There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”

Patricia Arquette, who won supporting actress for her performance as a single mother in Boyhood, said “wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women.”

“It shows a lot of the artists are far more advanced than the powers that be in Hollywood,” said Sharpton of the speeches. “They need to catch up with the social concerns of the artists. They reflect the culture.”

© 2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Academy Awards Telecast Is All Too Predictable

By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — How unfortunate that, in presenting the award for Best Director, Ben Affleck chose to quote Frank Capra’s observation that “the cardinal sin is dullness.”

None of the directors nominated, he added, could be accused of committing that sin. But, alas, the same could not be said for Sunday night’s telecast.

With a few notable exceptions, award-season fatigue took on a new and enervating dimension, exacerbated by a strangely defensive attitude toward many things, including, but not limited to the whiteness of the nominees, the preponderance of franchise films, and the public’s ability to watch films on their smart phones.

Even the preternaturally prepped and prolific Neil Patrick Harris seemed affected, reduced at times to a small figure on a big stage making “good job” remarks to performers and attempting to carry a long-running joke about a box. At one point he stripped down to his underwear, a la Michael Keaton in Birdman, and it was just as embarrassing as you might assume it would be.

In fact, much of the 87th Oscars happened just as you might assume it would, and that was certainly part of the problem. Virtually all of those predicted to win, won, from the night’s first award — to J.K. Simmons for his supporting performance in Whiplash to Birdman for best picture. It was so predictable that the night’s biggest upset was Big Hero 6 beating out How to Train Your Dragon 2. The collective gasp heard round the world.

This may explain why so many of the speeches sounded familiar — if you follow awards-season coverage, and it’s increasingly difficult to avoid — you may have actually heard them before. Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, who also won for best director, had literally run out of things to say when he accepted the evening’s last award.

Notable exception #1: Patricia Arquette, who has won several awards for her role in Boyhood, ended her read-from-piece-of-paper speech for Best Supporting Actress with an unexpected and impassioned call for pay equity.

Predictable winners were only part of the problem. Harris, who has now hosted every major award show save the Grammys, seemed as big a shoo-in for host as Julianne Moore for Best Actress (which, of course, she won.) Introducing the show as a chance to celebrate “Hollywood’s best and whitest, um, brightest,” he flashed his trademark sass to address the many complaints about the very Caucasian nature of this year’s nominees.

Pointed and righteous, if only the producers had been content to leave it at that. As if trying to make up for the fact that Selma was overlooked in many categories, the camera sought out and lingered on non-white members of the audience whenever Selma or Martin Luther King was mentioned.

It happened at a rate that was at first laughable and then irritating — memo to the Academy: black people are not the only ones who liked Selma, also they like other films too. On the other hand, the Academy’s defensiveness over being mostly white and male may well have been the reason for the higher than normal proportion of black women presenters, though the fact that the telecast was on ABC probably didn’t hurt either.

Harris then segued, not surprisingly to a song. Themed to celebrate the marvels of “moving pictures,” and including a duet with Anna Kendrick, it was quickly interrupted by Jack Black, ranting, musically, about the forces plaguing the industry: sequels, prequels, comic books, and “jean screens” (smart phones.)

Funny enough, if only the writers had been content to leave it there. Instead, the plague of franchise films, the digital age and Fifty Shades of Grey haunted the telecast, with Harris pointing out not once, but twice that many of the nominated films actually made money. In fact American Sniper is, according to Harris, the Oprah of this year’s films.

“Because you’re rich,” he explained when Winfrey seemed not to understand why she was being dragged into it. While not as bad as David Letterman’s Uma/Oprah flame-out, the joke did bring it to mind, and the first rule of hosting the Oscars is: Never bring to mind Letterman’s Uma/Oprah flameout.

Also, I’m fairly certain Neil Patrick Harris is part of the 1 percent as well.

And it went downhill from there. Oh there were a few good moments — Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski, winning for best foreign film, finished his acceptance speech despite the orchestra play off. And the performance of “Everything is Awesome” involved many people getting Oscars made of Legos, which really were awesome.

But as the telecast headed into its second hour it was marked mostly by the familiar sight of repeat winners and the unfamiliar sight of Neil Patrick Harris punting joke after joke. A crack about a winner’s dress moments after she had spoken of her son’s suicide was particularly tin-earred as was a joke about Edward Snowden not being present “for some treason.”

Then two and a half hours in, things got briefly better. Idina Menzel and John Travolta amiably addressed Travolta’s mangling of her name last year before presenting the award for best song to John Legend and Common for “Glory.” As at the Golden Globes, they gave wonderfully soulful speeches, which, though familiar, were still quite moving.

They were followed by Terrence Howard doing King Lear as he introduced three film clips and Lady Gaga singing a medley from “A Sound of Music,” which though deeply weird at least could not be described as dull. Then Harris took the reins once again and the predictable wins resumed.

Notable exception # 2: Graham Moore, winning for best adapted screenplay (The Imitation Game), spoke of his isolation as a gay teen and encouraged others to “Stay weird. Stay different.”

Which is exactly what this Oscars needed: A little more weird, a little more different, and a lot less defensiveness.

We really do love the movies. That’s why were watching the Oscars. So relax, already.

© 2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Image: via ABC