Selma: The otherwise ignored Best Picture Nominee

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love movies. Love them. I am perfectly fine going to multiple movies in a week. And recently, I have taken to bringing along a notebook to the theatre in order to write down thoughts and questions and observations I have about the film I am watching. Film is great.

My love of film does not blind me to the valid argument that the Academy Awards are by and large pointless and don’t bear a true reflection of the quality or importance of a film. Arguments against the value of the Academy Awards may include:

  • Instead of a group of people watching all the noteworthy films, and then basking in their film-watching brilliance before making a series of decisions, there are campaigns for films and actors and directors. That seems much less like awards are given out of sheer merit.
  • Isn’t it just a big expensive evening for rich and famous people? Couldn’t money be better spent elsewhere?
  • If you accept film as art, and art is meant to affect people on a personal and individual level, does a fancy award matter at all?
  • That one time Moulin Rouge didn’t win Best Picture and it broke my heart. “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return!!!!!”

Those arguments and others aside, the Academy Awards matter simply because film is so prevalent in our culture. Film is arguably the most visible media we consume and therefore what films receive accolades matter. The nominated films become buzz words and achieve a longer stay at theaters. People who have never even heard of art houses will seek out independent theaters just to go see the Oscar nominated films that never made it to mainstream viewers. Actors and directors will henceforth have, “Featuring Oscar-nominated director…” in the trailers for new movies. There is a ripple effect as a result of nominations and wins.

So. Does winning an Oscar matter for the film itself? Not really. (Unless my favorite film of the year is nominated. I JUST WANT MY FAVORITE TO WIN!!!!)

But from a cultural perspective Oscar nominees matter greatly. Which is why I am so peeved at the Oscar nominations–or more accurately, lack of nominations–for Ava DuVernay’s Selma.

selma_movieSelma is nominated for Best Picture. Great! It deserves that nomination. Selma is an amazing film with great acting, great music, great directing, a great screenplay. (Pardon my overuse of the word ‘great.’) However, that is the only nomination for the film itself. Selma is nominated for Best Picture, yet is snubbed for every category that makes it great. If the categories leading up to the final award given at the awards show are what add up to make a film the all around best, how can a film nominated for Best Picture be absent from every single other category?

Winning awards in other categories does not guarantee a Best Picture win. But to me the absence of any other nominations seems like the Academy is saying, “Well, I guess we’d better include this here civil rights movie… People will be angry if we don’t. But I don’t really like it when women direct films and I don’t really like it when black men star in movies so let’s not give it any more nominations than we have to.”

Yep, I did it. I blamed sexism and racism for the Selma snubs.

Do I really know what went through the minds of the people who make the nominations? Of course not. But you can’t watch Selma without feeling stunned by the acting and overall experience. Ava DuVernay did a remarkable job as a director. David Oyelowo was the perfect choice to play Martin Luther King, Jr. Everything about that film is perfect. It is no wonder it has a Best Picture nominee. But it is sheer film-watching insanity that its only other nomination is for the song that plays during the end credits. And so I have to ask, Why? Why the snub? And then my mind turns to the darkest answers: Social diseases such as sexism and racism, the answers supported, of course, by the overall lack of diversity in film in general and in nominations for awards.

DuVernay directing

DuVernay directing

Here is a list of everything I can recall from Selma that deserves attention:

  • Costumes
  • David Oyelowo
  • Ava DuVernay
  • Carmen Ejogo
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Set design
  • Dialogue
  • Story
  • Depiction of a tumultuous time in history in such a way that the viewer starts to get a sense–even a tiny sense–of what it was like
  • A story about black people told by black people, and without the white savior character
  • I think I cried out in emotion at least four times–this film is essential
  • Cinematography
  • This movie acknowledged Martin Luther King’s philandering. An unpleasant but important thing to know.
  • While there weren’t many female characters, what women were present were REAL PEOPLE. And not just in the sense that this is a movie about true events and therefore historical figures. I mean the characters had depth. And good lines. And had stories of their own.

I’m not saying for sure what movies should win in which categories–there were a lot of great films this year (The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, anyone?). But the absence of Selma in the other categories irks me and hurts me. If it’s worthy of a Best Picture nomination, where are the nominees that add up to Best?

And when will the Academy and Hollywood at large start to recognize the tremendous contributions by all persons that do not fit the white male mold?

Revolutionary Women: Lauren Bacall

 

“I think your whole life shows on your face and you should be proud of that.” –Lauren Bacall

6a00d8341c2ca253ef01a73ddd5427970d-450wiWhile Lauren Bacall may have been on my list of eventual revolutionary women to cover, she has been bumped to the top due to her recent death. Her film legacy is stunning, but what her legacy means to me as a modern woman is even more extraordinary.

I hate to include a paragraph that in any way defines Bacall by her husband, but I really love Humphrey Bogart so am going to anyway. He is one of my celebrity crushes (most of my celebrity crushes are on dead men) and I just love when he smiles. The Bacall and Bogie relationship was one of commitment and love. Thinking about them just makes me grin. But that is all I’ll say about that. Bacall was not defined by Bogie, even if their marriage was beautiful.

Bacall entered the film industry as a fierce contender. Her talent and presence on the screen represented a brand of acting and female representation you rarely if ever see anymore. While there were incredibly awful circumstances for women 60-70 years ago, the Golden Era of film did include great portrayals of women. Admittedly, there were also some not-so-great portrayals of women, but just look at this famous scene from To Have and Have Not:

Lauren Bacall could very well be my patronus. In the above clip her character is obviously very interested in Bogart’s character (who wouldn’t be?) and instead of waiting around dropping hints, she just goes for it! In theory, I am all about doing this but in practice I don’t even know where to begin. My default when attempting to flirt with guys is appearing completely aloof, which of course results in absolutely nothing.

I don’t want to pontificate on the overdone and inaccurate idea that women are only about finding romance. Romance is lovely, but there are so many more things in which women have interest. Nonetheless, in a world that assumes a woman making the first move is a bad idea (especially back then!) this scene just makes me shout in support and gives me a desire to just go for it. Not only in dating, but in everything! Waiting around never got anyone anything!

Born Betty Perske, she developed a love of theatre and eventually made her way into the movies. To Have and Have Not (1944) was her first film and where she met her eventual husband Humphrey Bogart. She is known for her uniquely husky voice, as well as her “look.” The “look” entails looking down with her face, but up with her eyes in a way that looks both mysterious and sexy. Reportedly, this “look” is the result of her being so nervous when she was shooting To Have and Have Not she had to keep her chin on her chest to keep her head from shaking.

Lauren Bacall--the "look."

Lauren Bacall–the “look.”

Besides her early success in film, she was an accomplished thespian, taking a several year break from film to focus on theatre in the 1960’s. She also won a Tony Award for her role in Applause, a stage adaptation of the film All About Eve.

In the film The Holiday starring Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, and Jude Law, Kate Winslet’s character is going through a tough time involving a horrible guy. While on holiday, her Oscar-winning screenplay writer neighbor (played by Eli Wallach) advises her to watch a bunch of old movies starring all these incredible women who had gumption and guts. To me Lauren Bacall epitomizes what Winslet’s character learns. She has gumption, both on screen and off, and is about as outspoken as one can be.

Bacall stands out in the history of film because she was a woman of her own in a time when an outspoken, independent woman was largely a societal no-no. Her films showed a woman in charge of her life, taking the lead and speaking her mind. Her life showed a woman who understood choice and sacrifice and love. While it is true her name will always be tied to Bogart’s, she had her own life, created her own legacy, and was a not-so-typical force in the world of film.

Sources:

Lauren Bacall

The Legend With the Look: Remembering Lauren Bacall

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

 

Black Widow and the Role of Women

article-1335353607565-12b9e3d5000005dc-27957_466x590Recently I overheard a distressing conversation in which a group of female twenty-somethings discussed Marvel’s Black Widow (the film version, not the comics). This group called Black Widow “one of those nasty girls,” because she was working with Captain America in his most recent film, instead of Hawkeye. Note at this point we don’t know all the details of the backstory between Hawkeye and Black Widow. It could be romantic, it could be platonic. Either way, it doesn’t make her a slut.

This struck a cord. Black Widow is probably my favorite Marvel character from the chain of Marvel films that continue to imbue our modern film experience. Thus far, she hasn’t had even one romantic or sexual relationship, let alone enough to qualify her as “one of those nasty girls.”

Overhearing this conversation brought up a few different issues for me: First, the role of women and how it would seem that regardless of a female character’s behavior or the type of relationship with male characters, that female character might always be relegated to romance or sexuality–even if it is unwarranted.

Second, the affliction of slut-shaming. Personally, I don’t care what your sex life is like or what you deem moral or immoral. What I do care about is if you shame other people for failing to live up to your personal standards, instead of their own. Shaming is never okay. And slut-shaming, with its presumptions and name-calling and limited scope is woman-centric in a highly negative way. I’m not a fan.

Third, this conversation makes me wonder how people view real-life women who have guy friends–whether one or two guy friends, or many. I myself have a friendship history made up primarily of guy friends–most of whom really were just friends. Do I have a reputation as “one of those nasty girls” that I have been blind too, because of my list of awesome guy friends?

In full disclosure, I’m unsure of how reflective this conversation is of the population at large. I prefer to think it is an anomaly. Maybe it was a group of girls buying into the “gossip equals good conversation” mentality. Maybe the people involved have so little experience with the opposite sex they just don’t understand that a woman can associate with men without being sexual or romantic.

However, given that Black Widow herself is quite the anomaly in film, I worry that the mentality of this conversation is not limited to just this group of women. Black Widow is an anomaly in that so far she hasn’t been a romantic interest. She has been an independent, kick-ass (literally) female character with as much brains as fighting prowess. She’s an anomaly because most often female characters are Black Widow’s opposite.

Most often, female characters exist to look sexy. Most often female characters exist to be the romantic lead for the male protagonist or to be the damsel in distress or to inspire the men. Most often, female characters are surrounded by sex and romance. They are rarely there as independent, fully-rounded characters. Thus, it might not be too much of a stretch for film-goers to view Black Widow as the sexy, romantic lead even in the absence of sex or romance for her character.

And I want to restate that in this I am only speaking of the films, not the comics. I am not a comic reader therefore do not want to speak for the comics or comic readers. This is strictly film.

So let’s get nitty-gritty about this by way of subheadings.

Role of Women and Female Characters

This conversation could very well be a symptom of the pervasive attitudes towards women in film, namely that women in film should support the men and/or be the love interest or sex object for the men.

I’m impatiently waiting for this mentality to fizzle and die. Love stories are wonderful. Love is one of the most basic and common of human experiences, therefore stories about it are expected and great. That does not mean that every female character in the known universe is obsessed with love or only exists for the benefit of male characters.

Remember when she beat up a group of guys before that other guy beat up one? Skills.

Remember when she beat up a group of guys before that other guy beat up one? Skills.

Black Widow has not once had a definitive relationship with any character in the Marvel films. Thus far she has been fairly asexual, meaning there hasn’t been any implication of sex or romance.

And yet, despite her saving lives, proving her mental brilliance, her backstory of which we only see the occasional tid-bit (Black Widow movie, where are you????), the absence of any love story, she is still relegated to the love interest and what she does with her body.

Are we so far gone in the idea that women only exist for romance and sex that even in the absence of those traits, that is all we see?

Slut-Shaming

Ah, the old tradition of slut-shaming. It is not too original to relate this trend to The Scarlet Letter, but it is such a very apt description.

scarletletterHester Prynne wears the scarlet letter ‘A’ for “adultery” in her Puritan town. SHE is the one who wears the letter. SHE is the one who bears the scrutiny and mockery. And yet, doesn’t it take two people to create a child the traditional way? Isn’t that basic biology and sex ed? YES!!! It is!! But Hester’s co-adulterer is safe from all shame!

We don’t make people wear letters anymore, but that doesn’t mean we’ve moved past shaming or judgement that is most often aimed at women. That is why we have characters like Barney Stinson who is “awesome” and we have characters like Black Widow (who hasn’t had any love interests that we know of) who is “one of those nasty girls.”

The discrepancy is revolting, and the shaming needs to stop.

Translation Into Real Life

Does this mentality translate into real life? How?

Most reasonable people will not watch movies and think of them as a roadmap for how real life ought to be. That does not mean the lessons and values we see in film don’t translate into our everyday perceptions.

Study after study shows that how women are portrayed in media–including film–impacts the well-being of women in reality. It impacts body image, self-worth, health, dreams and aspirations. It also drives many women to feel they are pitted one against another, instead of feeling unified as women.

I’ll let the website for Beauty Redefined fill you in on all that. They have PhD’s on the matter, after all. www.beautyredefined.net

In order to write this piece I re-watched Iron Man 2, even though I didn’t particularly like that film, just to make sure my assessment of Black Widow is correct. I maintain this stance: Black Widow is nothing but professional, brilliant, and exceptional in all her depictions on film. In Iron Man 2, it was Tony Stark who had the dirty or inappropriate things to say. Even during what could be the most innuendo-filled line delivered by Black Widow in Iron Man 2 is devoid of any innuendo because of her almost bored-sounding delivery.

Black Widow is totally amazing. And to saddle her with the degrading stereotypes often reserved for women that her character rejects completely… Well, it’s simply ridiculous to put it nicely.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |