Column: It’s Oscars time again. Wake me up when it’s over
Call it Oscar exhaustion. Emmy antipathy. Grammy burn out.
I’ve spent a good chunk of my professional life covering various awards shows, and now I can barely stand to watch them. There was just always so much stress involved: the struggle for credentials, the parking hassles, rushed red carpet interviews and brutal deadlines. Really, the best part about covering awards show was telling friends and family about it afterwards.
On Sunday, I won’t get worked up about whether “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will beat “Tár” for best picture. (It will.) Or whether Jamie Lee Curtis will finally get the career respect she deserves in the shape of a golden statuette. (Could be Kerry Condon’s year.)
My awards show mantra: Just wake me up when it’s over.
Come Monday morning, I will look at slideshows of stick figures in gorgeous clothes and chuckle at the fashionistas who proclaim that this was the year of cleavage, the color yellow or the return to elegance. As if the themes that crop up on the red carpet are anything more than simple coincidence and product placement for thirsty designers who often pay a hefty price to be “worn.”
I will scan the list of winners, rooting only for one film, the documentary “Navalny,” because an Oscar for best documentary might serve as a kind of life insurance for the anti-Putin dissident, who sits in prison as the Russian strongman tries to destroy him and the democratic movement he built. (The film is a riveting account of how Navalny, his colleagues and the incredible internet sleuths of Bellingcat identify, then confront the men who poisoned him with a nerve agent in 2020.)
It’s not often that the Oscar stakes are as dramatic as life and death, although winning awards can certainly make or break a career, and the whole spectacle is a sub-industry unto itself. The show generates millions of dollars for city coffers, and in ad revenue for ABC. Studios spend millions on lobbying in the run-up to Sunday. I respect that. I just don’t really care anymore.
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In 1985, I covered my first Academy Awards as a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News. I pushed my way onto the rope line outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on a tiny patch of real estate allegedly reserved for me, jostled by sharp-elbowed photographers, hoping to get something more meaningful than a designer endorsement out of the celebrities sweeping by. (Although to be honest, “Who are you wearing?” was a handy enough question if you couldn’t think of anything else to ask.)
I’ve been outside the Oscar auditorium and inside the Oscar auditorium, outside the Governor’s Ball and inside, outside the Vanity Fair party and inside, where reporters were forbidden to carry notebooks and were forced to run to the bathroom to write down things they didn’t want to forget.
At the party in 2006, I sat next to Russell Simmons, who was smoking a joint and abruptly turned away when I identified myself. I bumped into Jacqueline Bisset in the loo. Near a bar, I stood next to Michelle Williams, who was grossed out by lollipop party favors featuring the face of then-underage Dakota Fanning. “That’s almost pornographic!” Williams exclaimed at the thought of people sucking on little Dakota’s face.
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I was at the first post-#MeToo Oscars in 2018, when Hollywood was still in shock and just starting to come to grips with its reflexive protection of powerful men who behave very, very badly. The town was still in a state of moral confusion.
After all, that year it awarded an Oscar to Kobe Bryant for his short “Dear Basketball,” despite his having been charged with raping a woman in Colorado in 2003. (The charges were dropped when the victim, whose life had been threatened and who had attempted suicide, stopped cooperating with prosecutors. Bryant publicly apologized to her.)
But just a year before that, the writer/director/actor Nate Parker was snubbed for his remake of “The Birth of a Nation.” Parker’s film was a Sundance Film Festival sensation, and at a time when the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag had gone viral, the success of the film and its auteur were viewed as an important corrective. “Birth” was supposed to be a major Oscar contender. In interviews for the film, Parker acknowledged that he had been charged with rape in 1999 while a student at Penn State; he was acquitted. But Parker was deemed unsuitably defensive after news surfaced that the alleged victim had died by suicide in 2012. Hollywood shunned him; the film sank with hardly a trace.
In my view, Bryant’s Oscar triumph taken together with Parker’s bizarre cancellation is a shining example of Hollywood hypocrisy.
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This unfortunate quality was also on display in the aftermath of last year’s infamous slap, when Will Smith took offense at Chris Rock’s joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and strode onstage mid-ceremony to assault the host. I was stunned by the number of people who made excuses for Smith’s reprehensible behavior.
Dramatic, unscripted moments like that can turn a dull event into a spectacle. Before the Slap, of course, there was the Kiss.
Both were acts of aggression, though the unwoke 2003 Oscars audience did not seem to perceive the full-body embrace that Adrien Brody forced upon Halle Berry as a moral breach.
“Bet you didn’t know that was part of the gift bag,” Brody joked, as if Berry were the equivalent of a gift certificate to Spago. Berry, for her part, looked stunned.
In the newsroom that night, I remember enthralled page designers and editors deciding to blow the photo up for the cover of the Calendar section. It was definitely the evening’s most dramatic image.
Berry later said it had been a shock. She went with it, she told an interviewer, but her main reaction was “what ... is happening?”
Later, I came to feel that we had valorized a form of assault.
On Sunday evening, I will be at home, in front of a fire, probably watching a movie. Good luck to all the nominees, but especially to the reporters, editors and photographers facing their impossible deadlines. I wouldn’t trade places with you for anything.
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