The Oscars Are Trash

Be calm. Carry on.


As anyone might have guessed, Oscar voters are old, white (94%), male (77%), and irrelevant to you and me. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) thus offers a rather narrow view on the African-American experience, insomuch as there is, in fact, just one, uncomplicated perspective to which all black people relate. But enough about nuance. Let's talk about Selma, an acclaimed and important film that I haven't yet seen; and which the pale geriatrics who "decide" the most glorified year-end list of all nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Song, and nothing else.

At the New Republic, for instance, politics reporter Brian Beutler writes that Selma was justifiably overlooked in all but two categories at this year's Academy Awards ceremony. Beutler writes that Ava DuVernay's watershed account of the 1965 voting rights protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., is "littered with strange aesthetic choices and ham-handed exposition," and thus "if a movie were merely the sum of the aesthetic choices that hold it together, Selma would be a disappointment."

Writing for Medium, Stacia Brown suggests that, performance shortcomings and historical nitpicking aside, director Ava DuVernay made Selma as a definitively black historical record of the Civil Rights Movement: "The audiences most enthralled with her film are filled with viewers who understand the agonies of its characters most acutely." In consideration of such a divergence between black and white moviegoers' relation to the history that Selma presents (on a black director's terms), Mark Harris wonders "whether a particular kind of soft racism is in play" in the Oscar committee's snubbing one of last year's biggest and most acclaimed film releases.

While the appropriate critics hash this shit out, I will instead address, briefly, the notion of "erasure," i.e., the supposed power of institutions like the AMPAS (the Oscars) and the NARAS (Grammys) "to erase" non-white perspectives via the whitewashing of history and culture. "Erasure is everywhere," writes Brittany Spanos, "from our justice system to our art and popular culture where being a black creator has typically meant that you are only valuable if appetizing to a white consumer market, and, in turn, able to be reimagined as a form of art without non-white origins.​" In this sense, Iggy Azaelea's existence is a sort of erasure of black music. Likewise, Selma and its cast being overlooked in several Oscars award categories is, arguably, a deliberate mitigation of Ava DuVernay's otherwise invaluable contribution to U.S. historical drama.

Oscar voters snubbed The Lego Movie, too. Love is dead in these cold streets.

The official erasure of U.S. history to make way for white forgiveness (of course) is recurring and legitimate cause for concern. In the lesser context of music and entertainment, hip-hop has been waging wars against revisionism since the wayback dayz of Chuck D vs. Elvis. Mind you, hip-hop has been losing this war since The Fugees lost Album of the Year to Celine Dion. (Seventeen years later, I wrote about Kendrick Lamar losing best rap album to Macklemore.) Year after year, the big lesson seems to be: We're furious at [network televised awards ceremony], and [network televised awards ceremony] has no idea why, nor could they care any less; the men in tuxes are there for a night of gift bags and pigs-in-blankets.

Much like the Grammys, the Oscars are not a credible exercise. In critical retrospect, many of the committee's nominations don't hold up; films and actors that win their categories often fail the test of time. The Oscars are an ostensibly desegregated networking soiree hosted by a trade association. Its prestige is an act of marketing, hence the attendees being overdressed for a ceremony that is overproduced.

If you think Selma not winning an Academy Award somehow mitigates the work of either Ava DuVernay or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you may be suffering from an unhealthy relationship with televised spectacle and the media you consume. Read a novel or something.

If I were to win an Oscar for whatever reason, I would smelt the gold and recast it as a Cuban link, which I would wear on the 6 train, to the office, to my gym, and all over Manhattan. Note that I couldn't actually do this, however, because Oscars aren't made of gold; they're made of britannium because (I repeat) Oscars are #trash.

White power mutes black vantages every day. The boldest artists, fans, and insurgent critics are waging the long war, desegregating genres and industry by creative force. In the meantime, we have alternative channels for our rage, and better ways to spend our time. Not to boycott a ceremony so much as to ignore yet another shameful mess of a Hollywood stage. Deny the Oscars your time and obsession. Spend the night at a theater watching Selma, if you (like I) haven't seen it already. Or change your television's channel. Unplug. Turn off that motherfucking radio.

Latest in Pop Culture