Often I’m often turned off just by the concept of celebrity alone. People who make their living pretending to be one of us average folk in society.
Thin and beautiful millionaires convene once a year for the Academy awards and give each other gold trophies, thank god and advocate world peace.
There is no doubt in the potential power of celebrity in concept of platform and audience alone but too often I am disappointed. When I
think about world problems and celebrities I wonder why there are so many stars with so much money, resources and platforms that
go unused? Why aren’t celebrities more of a driving force for social change? Of course as a gay man I’m happy to see an out gay man host
the Oscars. It’s a cultural shift in our society in visibility alone. For too long Hollywood erased gay men. Rock Hudson, Robert Reed and Liberace come to mind. All gay male celebrities that died in the closet from HIV. So yes I was content with Neil Patrick Harris. Although I’ve never been a NPH fan or watched his work I was excited about the possibilities of a gay man, live with an audience of 37.3 million at his feet and a room full of money. However I was only to be let down by poop jokes and a half naked NPH standing in his briefs; amounting to what some on twitter described as desperate. Tegan and Sara, lesbian sister singers whom I usually enjoy, performed a horrible song called “Everything is Awesome” the sound was funky and it’s just an untrue statement in these times because everything is not awesome. The awful sound and swirling, plastic legos dancing around the stage and audience was appropriately fake, and plastic just like that song. One of the lego dancers gave Oprah a fake, plastic, Oscar award. All performers knowing of the ire the Oscars were drawing over race. All knowing not a single acting nominee was a person of color. Giving Oprah a fake Oscar felt too staged and desperate for blackness. At one point Neil Patrick Harris put the microphone in the faces of two random blonde, white women, sitting in different sections who both turned out to be ‘seat fillers’ NPH seemed horrified the two people he picked were seat fillers. I was interested in why his subconscious chose two, white, blonde,thin women? Even more interesting knowing the controversy around the Oscars, Why were the seat fillers white, blonde, thin beautiful women?
Openly bisexual singer Lady GaGa for whom we have long depended to bring the edge and a beat performed a slow, classical like tribute to The Sound Of Music. A musical, A movie not every gay man enjoys believe it or not. A musical shot before my time, I struggled to understand why GaGa whom is way younger than me would choose such a number but I was weaned on techno, dance, and rock. For me, musicals are like a joke that I’m not in on. I struggle to enjoy any aspect of them and have never understood the almost cult like following The Sound Of Music has with some gay guys. Likewise people often don’t understand my bias towards musicals. I have a hard enough time paying attention, combine any slow music with the long night and long speeches and it becomes a job. If I was directing the Oscars I would insist on upbeat, happy, or energetic musical numbers to offset the long night, long speeches and to wake people up at home. If I was in charge of the Oscars I might request Oscar winners say their thank yous to 25 different people via twitter or press release, after the show.
German Playwrite Bertolt Breecht once said “Art is not a mirror to reflect reality but a hammer with which to shape it” and Austrian writer Ernst Fischer once wrote “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful must also reflect decay”. I don’t know about you but I was born and raised in the city in a post segregated school and neighborhood. My playmates, classmates and teachers were often black. At no period in my 40 years alive have I lived anywhere where blacks sing, dance and deliver gold gifts to rich white people.
There was supposed to be a red carpet protest but regrettably it was cancelled at the last minute per request of the Director of Selma. On twitter I pushed the boycott organized by black twitter where I was met by comments like “blacks have to earn Oscars on merit” But how can you be nominated if there are no roles for you? Why was Selma the only black movie? And consider the budget difference in black movies. Selma was only budgeted for $20 million while American Sniper had $60 million to work with. And why are there black movies to begin with? because traditional, white Hollywood refuses to portray the reality that many of us live in racially diverse neighborhoods.
Neil Patrick Harris didn’t perform poorly but I wasn’t razzle dazzled. I can’t help but wonder, does NPH, a rich white gay, famous since childhood have any idea what it is like to be a gay youth homeless on the streets as I was and thousands of lgbt youth are now? Does Neil Patrick Harris have any idea what its like to struggle with food insecurity as many of us do? Why does it seem like if every rich, famous, connected gay could organize with Cyndi Lauper at the FortyToNone Org we could start to put an end to homeless LGBT youth? And while we are on the topic why was Cher the only celebrity to say anything to Governor Hutchinson in Arkansas about SB202? How many movie tickets, t-shirts, books, recordings etc do we have to buy for everyone in Hollywood to tweet Arkansas? Why don’t celebrities care about us? Why aren’t they all hopping on a plane to defend the lgbt community riding off into the sunset to save the day together? I mean if they really wanted to; they could do that, but seriously a tweet would of been nice.
“We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850 — Bravo John Legend. 2,266,800 people are in US, federal, state and private for profit prisons. 1 in 31 people in the United States is in the grips of the criminal justice system. The highest rates in the world thanks in large part to the war on drugs. Many of these prisoners are in for non-violent crimes and 1 in 31 also potentially represents 1 in 31 families that are shattered by the government due to our national twisted obsession with punishment.
Depression and suicide is rampant. According to the World Health Org approximately one million people per year are dying of suicide. An increase of 60% in the past 45 years. Suicide did get a shout out from best documentary short subject, producer Dana Perry. Her film is Crisis Hotline.
3.5 million people are homeless in the United States, many of whom work at least part-time if not multiple jobs just to stay alive. 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty now, the highest the poverty rate has been in 54 years! The creative ways people are coping with their situations deserve Hollywood’s attention. If you believe in listening to the message and not the messenger, Patricia Arquette gave a shout out to equal pay for women but her comments were overshadowed by backstage comments about gays and people of color finally helping women for a change of pace. And again she is a millionaire complaining about her pay but hey, at least she got a conversation started!
Activism is alive and thriving in LGBT rights, marijuana and #BlackLivesMatter among other movements. Washington DC is divided. Many people are angry. The country is polarized, black and gay power is palpable, these are very exciting times we are living in where things are rapidly changing. If Fischer or Brecht are correct about art reflecting society good and bad, Hollywood is doing a miserable job in my opinion. Academy membership is 94% white and 76% male. These numbers are totally unacceptable. However these conditions are producing some amazing and resilient people who will help shape our countries landscape. It may not be pretty, romantic or funny but these are the conditions millions of us are living under. But it’s the truth and people like the truth and what’s familiar. People like to see their lives reflected back in the arts. I can only guess but it’s probably why reality television is so popular. Even though most people know that reality tv is often scripted or staged people are clinging to the hope that some moments are real and authentic.
The arts and the movies may sometimes have the power to change hearts and minds by storytelling but not if that story is placed too far out of reach. We can’t all be lawyers and Doctors and that movie has already played. The only thing close to reality drama in my book is Empire. A new, groundbreaking show on Fox that reflects, angry, black, gay, homophobic, and violent America. It’s an urban jungle out here and people want something real they can hold onto. Something that represents them and their struggles.
In the end the Oscars were punished with their lowest viewership since 2009 and a decrease of 17% from just last year. To make matters worse; despite her lengthy career in show business, Joan Rivers, Queen of the red carpet itself was left out from the death roll montage. Perhaps the academy knew it would be controversial and felt that controversy was Joan’s calling card. The twitter outrage was one final controversy in the life of Joan Rivers. The culprit most likely, unfortunately is the Hollywood boys club. Johnny Carson locked her out of any recognition as a serious, legendary entertainer and in a final dig of disrespect so did the academy. Something you would expect from an academy that is 94% white and 76% male.
The Academy Awards have the potential to change, evolve and diversify becoming something people of all backgrounds can enjoy but only if movie makers themselves have the courage to take those steps so that Hollywood’s future is diverse, bright (and dark) and symbolic of the actual times we live in.